Cape Winemakers Guild Members Reject Commercial Use of GM Yeast and Vines

In view of the recent wine industry applications for both genetically modified yeast and field trials of genetically modified vines, the 37 members of the Cape Winemakers Guild (CWG) wish to fully support the decision taken by the SA Wine Industry Council, chaired by Professor Kader Asmal, not to allow the commercial use of GM organisms in any South African wine.

“South African wine is completely GM free,” says outgoing Guild Chairman, Gary Jordan. “The CWG represents the premium sector of the industry, and the introduction of GM into our cellars and vineyards would compromise not only the future of the CWG, but the future of the South African wine industry as a whole, so much so that it would be doubtful whether it could survive.”

The South African wine industry has built an extremely positive international image around environmentally aware Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) principles, as well as promoting the image of unique vineyards surrounded by one of the most biodiverse of the 6 Floral Kingdoms of the world. To date, no GM vines have been commercially grown in South Africa and we benefit enormously from our natural, green image.

Market rejection of GM foods is strong in South Africa’s key export markets and the EU has largely banned GM food products. The USA lost its EU corn export market in 1997 for example, resulting in losses of around $1 billion USD over a three-year period, and Canada forfeited almost its entire EU canola export market due to its status as a GM canola producer. “South Africa should remain a GM-free wine producer and should take a premium wine producer approach, rather than a commodity supplier approach” adds Jordan.

Consumer perceptions, far more than scientific findings, dictate market realities for South African wine makers. As scientists we recognize the importance of worldwide wine-related biological research and the need for the establishment of an internationally competitive knowledge base in South Africa, both through research and teaching. International scientific techniques that can identify useful traits in grape and yeast varieties – called gene sequencing or genomics – do not require outdoor commercial use of a GM organism in order to benefit the industry. Genetic modification techniques are used, but no GM organisms leave the lab.

It is heartening to learn that those most involved in GM research for wine making have agreed that market acceptance is key and already in 2002 the then director of South Africa’s Institute of Wine Biotechnology at Stellenbosch University, Professor I Pretorius remarked: “This industry is very dependent on the highly sensitive European market, and it would be suicidal to ‘pioneer’ GM products there.” He added that laboratory based GM techniques were an invaluable complement to traditional procedures, “In the research laboratory [GM] is a very powerful tool to gain information about fundamental aspects of the grapevine and wine yeast. This helps us to unravel complex issues and test hypotheses. Then we can go back to try and solve the same problem via a non-GM strategy.”

The CWG therefore supports any non-GM strategy that will benefit the South African wine industry and rejects any commercial use of GM yeasts or vines.

ENDS 15 December 2006

Issued on behalf of the Cape Winemakers Guild Contact: Kate Jonker, General Manager Tel: (021) 852 0408 Fax: (021) 852 0409 Email: Website: