NZ wine industry deeply divided over GM use

KAT PICKFORD
Last updated 12:24 04/09/2013

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Genetic modification was a hotly debated topic at the wine industry's national conference in Blenheim last week.

The issue was raised at the start of the Romeo Bragato conference by KPMG audit partner Ian Proudfoot, who said the wine industry needed to discuss the use of genetically modified organisms.

Whether to adopt them was another question, but it was important to gather as much information as possible so growers could make an informed decision, rather than one based on emotion, he said.

The use of genetically modified vines or yeasts in the vineyard and winemaking process was raised again at the "wine pioneers" panel section of the conference; a question and answer session, for the delegates to question five industry experts.

The panel included Plant and Food Research scientist Mike Trought, Marlborough viticulturist Richard Bowling, Foxes Island founder John Belsham, organic vineyard development expert Bart Arnst and Hawke's Bay winemaker Mal McLennan.

Mr Arnst, who has worked for the Marlborough bio-dynamic and organic winery Seresin Estate, was against the idea of GM.

"Forget about it," Arnst said.

"I like to think we've got a lot to learn without having to go down that route, collecting knowledge around the country to look after ourselves in a better manner."

Mr McLennan said growers needed to be more observant in their vineyard, to see the natural changes in the vines. More work should be done on healthy plants to identify why they were strong and more resistant.

Mr Trought said if the industry did not start doing work in the field, they would fall behind other wine-producing countries.

In the United States, most maize and soy bean products were genetically modified, and diabetics worldwide used insulin that was genetically modified, he said.

If American scientists were to discover how to find cells resistant to various vine diseases, they would use it.

"If we don't invest in research, we won't understand the physiological and genetic processes and whether we can use GM plants or yeast," Mr Trought said.

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- The Marlborough Express

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