Trust him, he’s a biotechnologist

I reported last week about the government giving the go-ahead for Stellenbosch University’s Institute for Wine Biotechnology to proceed with planting genetically modified grapevines in the heart of the Cape vineyard. Now (surprise surprise, and why am I reminded of good old, old South African respect for authority?) a few ‘representative organisations’ have loyally declared their support for the research and the way it’s being carried out.

Joined with VinPro and Winetech (which “manages funding for research in the industry, including this project” – whether this means it is the sole funder is not mentioned) are Salba (South African Liquor Brandowners Association – mostly wine big-business companies) and WKSA (Wine Cellars South Africa). They declare that:

“The SA wine industry has expressed its full support for the planned research by the University of Stellenbosch into the establishment of genetically modified vineyards, and is satisfied that the implementation process is being handled in a responsible manner with the due transparency and consultation.”

Don’t you just love the way that they constitute “the SA wine industry” – by which they mean, I suppose, that they represent the comparatively small number of individuals who own most of it!

They “feel strongly” that “South Africa should maintain its competitive position in the international arena with regard to research conducive to eco-friendly and sustainable wine production”. Yes, well, don’t we all? The “South African wine industry”, here constituted, doesn’t explain exactly what is so eco-friendly about the current exercise, or why South Africa needs to do things to be competitive that, as far as I know, no-one else in the world is currently doing.

Further, while of course the industry – or at least the spokesperson for these organisations – “appreciates the concerns from members of the public”, it is also happy to trust the scientists implicitly. It is “confident that a world leader such as the Institute for Wine Biotechnology at the University of Stellenbosch would perform these scientific experiments according to a strictly regulated process”. Splendid! Let us all have faith in our scientific leaders, and not think too much about how much we like some of the other things they’ve already given the wine industry.

Frankly, I don’t have very deep convictions around the specific merits of the current issue, but I’m appalled by the arrogance and complacency expressed in the short joint press release from these organisations. It’s enough to make one fling oneself into the arms of the biodynamicists! Well, not quite.

If, as seems likely, various enthusiasts around the world try to cause trouble for South African wine on the basis of this experiment, it would be nice if they could somehow limit boycott calls to those whose organisations have declared their support for the transgenic vineyard idea. Members of Salba (one presumes they were consulted before a statement was issued in their names) include big stuff like Distell, KWV, Constellation SA and the Company of Wine People, as well as medium and smaller names like Vinimark, Newton Johnson [actually resigned last year], The Winery of Good Hope, Spier and Graham Beck. If any of them disagree with the statement made in their name I hope they’ll let the world know.

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