Could GMO techniques be used in winemaking? Surely the answer is no. Well, in truth, the answer is yes, even in some wine. However, not in the grapes themselves as described below. Whether genetic engineering is a problem or not needs to be decided by each person individually. However, most consumers feel strongly that the American public should be able to choose whether they ingest GMOs and currently that is not an option because only in the state of Vermont are labeling laws required to indicate this form of production.
This post begins with a basic description of genetic engineering, an overview on GMOs in wine, global adoption of GM crops with a map, the current state on Labeling Laws for GMO and concluding with a list of pros and cons as debated by the scientific community and the American public.
This is an abbreviated article; a comprehensive version follows for a more in depth study.
Basic Overview of GMOs
Humans have domesticated plants and animals since 12,000 BCE using selective breeding, also called artificial selection, in which organisms with desired traits are used to breed the next generation. This process was a precursor to the modern concept of genetic modification. Advancements in genetics have allowed humans to directly alter the DNA and therefore genes of organisms. Genetic modification involves the mutation, insertion, or deletion of genes. Inserted genes usually come from a different species.
A genetically modified organism (GMO) is a strictly human-driven process that cannot occur naturally, or without human intervention. GMOs are widely used in scientific research and are a source of medicines and genetically modified foods. Examples of genetic engineering in non-food crops include production of pharmaceutical agents, biofuels, and other industrially useful goods, as well as bioremediation (to break down hazardous substances into less toxic or nontoxic substances).
As with selective breeding, the aim in GM food crops is to introduce a new trait which does not occur naturally in the species. Examples include resistance to certain pests, diseases, or environmental conditions, reduction of spoilage, improving the nutrient profile, or resistance to chemical treatments (e.g. an herbicide so that they may be applied directly without killing the food source).
Refer to the comprehensive post for a full timeline on the GM roll out
1972 – Paul Berg, Professor Emeritus at Stanford University, created the first Recombinant DNA molecule when he combined DNA from a monkey virus with that of the lambda virus. This gene-splicing technique was a fundamental step in the development of modern genetic engineering.
1973 – Boyer and Cohen made the first genetically modified organism
1973 – Rudolf Jaensch created a transgenic mouse by introducing foreign DNA into its embryo, making it the world’s first transgenic animal
1983 – The first genetically engineered plant was developed
1985 – The first transgenic livestock were produced………and the list goes on
GMOs in Winemaking:
Currently wine grapes are not genetically engineered. The wine industry is inherently engrained in tradition and therefore a segment of the market least receptive to bio-engineering techniques. Wine grape varieties have been produced via cloning or hybridization for hundreds of years. For the purpose of specifically avoiding any genetic change, they are grown from rooted cuttings or from grafted buds. Grapes produce seeds, however, the seed won’t grow up to be identical to the parent so are never used as a way to grow new vines.
Genetic engineering is introduced into wine through yeasts and enzymes used in the winemaking process. Genetically modified yeast strains are beneficial in many ways and modifications strains do not change essential characteristics of the parent strain in the fermentation process; however, they do alter their metabolic processes.
Enzymes have a variety of functions in the winemaking process and are the target of genetic modification in the US, Canada and the EU. As is true with food crops, the best way to avoid GMOs is to buy organic as products containing GMOs cannot be labeled “organic”.
Global Adoption of GMO Crops
As of 2015, GMOs are grown, imported and/or used in more than 70 countries. Each of these countries has its own rigorous certification process.
Labeling Laws for GMOs
On July 7, 2016, the US Senate passed a bill that would set a national labeling standard for foods containing genetically engineered (GMO) ingredients. Since this bill is in contradiction to the HR 1599 Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 which spells out a voluntary GMO labeling program, there will need to be a new bill passed in the House of Representatives before the new bill can be brought before the President to be signed into law.
Pros and Cons
With respect to the question of “Whether GMO foods are safe to eat,” the gap between the opinion of the public and that of American Association for the Advancement of Science scientists is very wide with 88% of AAAS scientists saying yes in contrast to 37% of the general public.
A broad scientific consensus holds that genetically engineered food poses no greater risk than conventional food and is essential to feed the world’s population.
Surveys and polls indicate public concerns that ingesting genetically modified food is harmful, that biotechnology is risky, that more information is needed and that consumers need control over whether to take such risks.
Glyphosate and Glyphosate Resistant Crops: An in-direct concern exists with Glyphosate, a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide used to kill weeds and grasses that compete with crops. Monsanto’s Roundup was brought to market in 1974. Monsanto’s last commercially relevant United States patent expired in 2000 with a dramatic rise in glyphosate products flooding the market.
Monsanto scientists subsequently genetically modified soybeans to be resistant to glyphosate. Current glyphosate-resistant crops include soy, corn, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, and cotton, with wheat still under development. In 2015, 89% of corn, 94% of soybeans, and 89% of cotton produced in the US were genetically modified to be herbicide-tolerant. Concerns about glyphosates effects on humans and the environment persist.
Outcrossing: Genes from a GMO may pass to another organism. There are concerns that the spread of genes from modified organisms to unmodified relatives could produce species of weeds resistant to herbicides that could contaminate nearby non-genetically modified crops, or disrupt the ecosystem.
The field of genetic engineering is growing in leaps and bounds. Production involves plants, microbes, animals, fish, frogs and invertebrate for a multitude of purposes. It would be prudent to become knowledgeable about this vast subject as it has already and will continue to impact your life through a variety of pathways. It is only through knowledge and research that each person can form their own set of beliefs on this very controversial subject of genetic engineering.
Pollack, Andrew (2016-05-17). “Genetically Engineered Crops Are Safe, Analysis Finds”. The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331
Smithsonian (2015). “Some Brands Are Labeling Products “GMO-free” Even if They Don’t Have Genes
Biology Fortified https://www.biofortified.org/2013/10/gmo-wine-grapes/
Nicolia, Alessandro; Manzo, Alberto; Veronesi, Fabio; Rosellini, Daniele (2013). “An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research” (PDF).
Landrigan, Philip J.; Benbrook, Charles (2015). “GMOs, Herbicides, and Public Health”. New England Journal of Medicine (New England Journal of Medicine) 373 (8): 693. doi:10.1056/NEJMp1505660. PMID 26287848.
Wikipedia; Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_organism
GMO Answers https://gmoanswers.com/global-adoption-gm-crops