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Is There a Genetically Modified Wine in Your Future?

This week at a symposium in Napa, various stakeholders came together to discuss the future/possibility/fallacy of genetically modified wine grapes. The proceedings are falteringly covered by a poorly written article in the Press Democrat. This is an issue that's worth talking about though. Here's a Vinography Cliff's Notes version:

Environmentalists, Slow Food, Stanford Professors and general Organic-istas
Genetically modifying plants is morally and ethically wrong ("playing God" is a phrase that's used often) not to mention dangerous from an environmental perspective. We don't know enough about the consequences of mixing DNA from various species together to understand what we might unleash as a result -- either in our own bodies (e.g. poison, disease) or in the plant world (e.g. pestilence, plague, pests, etc.).

Oh, and there's this: wine has been made just fine without GM crops for oh, let's see... 25 centuries.

Monsanto and Agribusiness
"Biotechnology accelerates traditional breeding practices and raises the possibility of increasing food production for a growing world population. Genetically engineered crops developed by Monsanto are more resistant to disease, which reduces the use of chemical pesticides."

In other words, you can grow more grapes, better grapes, and you don't have to deal with nasties like Phyloxxera and Pierce's Disease and stuff like that.

Oh, and then there's this: we become bizillionaires if enough of you start using this stuff.

Grape Growers
Well, the idea of using less pesticide is generally a good thing, but most people who really want to use less pesticide can do so without GM products. The big draw here is the disease issue, though. Grapes are a livelihood and if they are wiped out by a disease, people can't feed their families, not to mention the fact that there won't be any wine.

Oh, and then there's this: will people stop buying our grapes if they are genetically modified?

Conscientious winemakers
Keep that #&^$&*^& @#$%^ out of our wines.

Big profit winemakers
If we were confident people would buy the wines, they why not. Less disease and less pesticides mean higher yields, lower costs, and higher margins.

Oh, and then there's this: the kickbacks from the big agribusiness companies don't hurt either...

This is a thorny issue, and not unlike the issues faced by farmers all across the United States. I tend to end up right down the middle -- some level of genetic modification is ok, especially when it means crossing strains of the same type of organism. Lord knows we've been doing that for eons already as a species. However the thought of fish genes in my strawberries makes me kind of ill.

At the end of the day, I'd tend to not buy wines that were made from genetically modified grapes, if only for the reason that we seem to have done very well without GM in the wine world for a long time.

What do you think?

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud