Genetically Modified Wine Yeast

red wineThe first wines made using genetically engineered (GE) yeast are believed to now be on the market. Saccharomyces cerevisiae strain ML01 is being marketed by Springer Oenologie, a division of Lesaffre Yeast Corporation. The yeast can apparently only be used in the U.S. where GE foods are not banned, as they are in many other countries.

Company literature describes the yeast as: “The world’s first, commercially available, genetically enhanced wine yeast, which reliably performs both the alcoholic fermentation and the malolactic fermentation without the need for bacteria.”

Els Cooperider, co-founder of Ukiah Brewing Company, America’s first certified organic brewpub, doesn’t like GE yeast. She writes in Terrain Magazine that GE yeasts for brewing “lite” beers have been available for a while now but no brewers are currently believed to be using them. The problem is that in the U.S. companies are not required to label GE products as such, so there is no way to know for sure.

Genetics Professor Emeritus Joe Cummings, from the University of Western Ontario, doesn’t like GE yeast either. He write in Sustainable Agriculture magazine:

“The GM wine yeast did not appear to have been tested for toxicity in animal feeding experiments nor was the must [the grape residue] and finished wine. The FDA review seemed to be based on faith rather than on science.”

Cooperider also says that:

” . . . the British medical journal, The Lancet, points out that international faith in the FDA is fast eroding because [GMO] approvals are frequently influenced by political pressure. Certainly the approval of GE wine yeast leaves fundamental—and extremely unsettling—questions to be answered.

“Because the US has no labeling requirements for GE products, we don’t know which companies are using GE yeast. I’ve spoken to winemakers in Mendocino County who were outraged to learn that GE wine yeast had been approved and is now out in the world. We learned during the Measure H campaign that at least 30 field trials with GE wine grapes had been conducted in California, according to officials at UC Davis. We know that trials are being conducted with GE yeast. It would behoove the wine industry to find out where these trials are being conducted. In the meantime, the best way to stop this nonsense is to boycott wines and all other products whose producers cannot prove they don’t use GMOs.”

But how does one boycott companies using GE yeast when there is no requirement to label GE products?

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