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Frankenwine? Wines made with GMO yeast hit the market this year

Thursday, December 21, 2006 by: Jessica Fraser
Tags: wine, geneticaly modified foods, GMO foods


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(NewsTarget) -- The United States' first wines made using a genetically modified wine yeast will be released this year, but critics say the GM yeast has not been properly safety tested and could contaminate non-GM wine crops.

According to Napa Valley, Calif., resident Erica Martenson, an opinion writer for the Napa Valley Register, a few winemakers' decision to use GM yeast -- ML01 -- could affect American wine consumers and the U.S. wine economy.

"This yeast is available only in North America where GMOs are unregulated," Martenson wrote. "A few wineries' decision to use this yeast could affect the entire North American market. Since these wines are unlabeled, the only way people can avoid them is to avoid all wines from North America, except those labeled organic."

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently designated ML01 as GRAS -- Generally Recognized as Safe -- following a review of data supplied by the GM yeast's supplier. Because the agency failed to conduct its own study of the yeast or have independent research conducted, it may not be entirely safe, Martenson wrote.

"[The yeast's] developer has an interest in getting its product to the market as soon as possible, whether it has been proven safe or not," she wrote.

According to Joseph Cummings, emeritus genetics professor at the University of Western Ontario, the FDA's assessment of the yeast did not include animal toxicity experiments. "The FDA review seemed to be based on faith rather than on science," Cummings wrote in Sustainable Agriculture.

Because yeast can travel great distances through the air like pollen, and is made of hardy spores, experts say the GM yeast could easily find its way into neighboring wineries' products.

"...this GM wine yeast could contaminate native and traditional wine yeasts through the air, surface waste and water runoff," Martenson wrote.

Though the GM yeast -- engineered to conduct two separate fermentation processes simultaneously -- could be appealing to high-volume wineries, most vineyards Martenson contacted said they were not using ML01, and did not plan to.

Martenson created a list of non-GM yeast wineries available online at www.preservenapasag.org on the FAQs page. Interested consumers can download the "Shopper's Guide to Buying Non-GMO" to view products -- including wines -- that do not use GM ingredients.

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