A few days ago I read in Diaro del Vino the case of seven Argentinean wines and two South African wines that were removed from the German market due to the presence of Natamycin/Pimaricin, an antifungal used in the food industry as a preservative to prevent the growth of fungus in cheeses and sausages. How odd. How would an antifungal find its way into these wines? Or more importantly, do they contain a level harmful to consumers? Well, harmful or not, I prefer my wine without antifungals. A bit irritated, I began to search for more news of this scandal. On the website weinverkostungen.de, Thomas Günther reports that since November of 2009 the Landesuntersuchungsamt Rheinland-Pfalz (LUA), the German agency responsible for the health of people and animals, has discovered Natamycin in 16 of 314 sampled wines. In the EU, the US, Argentina, Canada, Chile, and New Zealand the use of Natamycin in the production of wine is prohibited although its use in South Africa is permitted. In some cases, for example Argentina, it is permitted for the cleaning of beverage containers and wineries. So the antifungal is present in the wines due to residue left from cleaning? Susana Balbo, president of Wine of Argentina, has asked producers to stop using the detergent NAT 3000 which contains the antifungal. But Marc Dubernet, director of the French enological laboratory Dubernet, believes that the use of Natamycin for cleaing is very expensive. And columnist and wine specialist Rogerio Rebouças of the daily Jornal do Brasil assures that in reality the Argentineans are using the product to “stabilize the wine”. As the South Africans know, Natamycin will eliminate the presence of Brettanomyces, a contaminant yeast which leaves wine with little fruit fragrance y characteristics of barnyard, horse sweat, and rancid cheese. But also as is known in the world of wine, there are other chemicals utilized and universally accepted for the elimination of Brettanomyces. So why are the Argentineans using a prohibited chemical?
And in the case of South Africa where Natamycin is used in many food products, The Wine and Spirit Board of South Africa in its memorandum of 13 November 2009 wrote to its producers and exporters:
“We appeal for your assistance in informing all your suppliers that the use of Natamycin/Pimarizin to these markets [the European Union, the US, Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile and New Zealand] and specifically to Europe, is illegal. The use of this product in wine for export can potentially be damaging to the international image of South African wine. The Department also encourages producers to find alternatives to Natamycin, for example Dimethyl-dicarbonate (DMDC), as DMDC is allowed internationally.”
And on the subject of health, Natamycin is considered non-toxic, so why the worry with its use in wine? I agree with the Germans. The unnecessary use of antibiotics and antifungals in the production of our food will only serve to increase the growing resistance of microbes. So not only do I ask Argentinean and South African wineries to stop their use of Natamycin, but also producers around the world to stop the unnecessary use of antibiotics, antifungals, and hormones in the production of our food.