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GM vine trials may get go-ahead in South Africa

Published:  23 July, 2008

by Stuart Peskett
Trials aimed at producing genetically modified (GM) vines that are resistant to fungus will be carried out by the University of Stellenbosch, provided the government grants permission. And in a separate application, an ex-pat South African has asked for permission to sell GM yeast to winemakers.

If granted, the first GM wines could be produced in five years' time, although it is not believed that the wines will be made available commercially.

The GM yeast, on the other hand, could be on the market

as soon as approval is given by the government. This is by no means certain, however, since the South African Wine Council has already objected to the commercial use of GM yeasts, and the registrar, who will make the final decision, is expected to turn down the application.

Sophie Waggett, UK market manager for Wines of South Africa (WOSA), issued this statement: 'The field trials on GM grapes will be done in accordance with research protocol which is available at and provides information on how secure the process is, as well as how the risk of contamination is controlled.

'It is currently not legal to produce GM wine in South Africa and the Wine and Spirit Board has no plans to change this.'

According to latest statistics from the US Deparment of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service, GM crop varieties now make up 92% of South Africa's cotton, 29% of its maize and 59% of soya beans.

Pieter Ferreira, winemaker for Graham Beck Wines, told Harpers that even if the trials proved successful, he would be very reluctant to use such material. He said: 'I prefer things to follow their natural way. I'm scared that we are going to go down the Coca-Cola route.

'As a winemaker, I would not be interested in making wine with grapes like that. I believe that we have to fight the

natural elements. I think that GM in wine, at the moment,

is a no-go.'