|December 02, 2005|
Biotech firm tackles carcinogens
|Company hopes to cash in on process that targets ethyl carbamate in wine|
Friday, December 02, 2005
CREDIT: Mark Van Manen, Vancouver Sun
Geoff Lee of First Venture Technologies with a special new proprietary brandy yeast, which it claims reduces the ethyl carcinogens in wine.
Fledgling Vancouver biotech company First Venture Technologies Corp. has licensed exclusive rights to University of B.C.-developed technology that can drastically reduce suspected carcinogens in wine and spirits.
First Venture has posted losses of more than $1 million in the past two years and its TSX Venture Exchange share price has so far failed to break the one-dollar mark, ranging in the 35- to 83-cent range during that time.
But the company hopes to start cashing in next year on the process, which targets ethyl carbamate, also known as urethane, recognized as a probable carcinogen that occurs naturally in wine and other fermented food and beverage products.
The company has announced that researchers at the University of B.C. Wine Research Centre have concluded that white wine produced by First Venture's proprietary brandy yeast had 83 per cent less ethyl carbamate than wine produced from unmodified yeast.
First Venture chief financial officer Geoff Lee said the company now has two yeast strains that are highly effective in reducing carcinogen levels in alcoholic beverages, as previous testing at the wine research centre showed its red wine yeast cut those levels by 89 per cent.
The company is developing the technology in partnership with the wine research centre.
Lee said the company is currently assessing the demand for its new yeast strains and hopes to begin selling it to wineries and distilleries in 2006. First Venture estimates the yeast will add about two cents to the cost of producing one litre of table wine.
"It's really about choice," Lee said in an interview. "Do you want to choose to make or consume a product that gives you a much higher risk of carcinogen exposure or not? At what cost is that valuable?"
North American regulators have established different levels of acceptance for the amount of ethyl carbamate allowed in different beverages. In Canada, the legal limit for table wine is 30 micrograms per litre while higher levels are permitted for distilled and fortified spirits.
Hennie van Vuuren, founding director of the UBC Wine Research Centre, has spent seven years working on the carcinogen-reducing yeast technology and hopes to achieve 100-per-cent reduction in the future.
"But this [current reduction] is already very significant and brings levels down almost to where you cannot even detect it using sophisticated mass spectrometers," he said in an interview.
Van Vuuren said some red wines could contain as much as 80 micrograms of ethyl carbamate per litre, but those wines cannot be sold in Canada.
BC Wine Institute spokesman Jeff McDonald said the ethyl carbamate issue has been on the industry's radar for a long time and noted Canada was the first country to ban the sale of wine containing more than 30 micrograms of the substance per litre.
"Apparently this company [First Ventures] has found at least a partial solution so that sounds good to us," he said. "We're very concerned about any kind of safety issue around our wine products."
But McDonald feels consumers are not overly concerned about the issue right now.
"We don't get a sense that they're really worried," he said. "The impetus for change isn't coming from consumers.
"It's coming from the industry itself."
TO YOUR HEALTH:
A process developed at UBC's Wine Research Centre cuts the level of a probable carcinogen in wine and spirits.
· 83% Reduction of ethyl carbamate in white wine
· 89% Reduction of ethyl carbamate in red wine
· 30 micrograms per litre. Legal limit for ethyl carbamate in table wine in Canada
· 80 micrograms. Amount per litre of ethyl carbamate than can be found in some red wines
· 2 cents per litre. Estimate of what the process would add to the cost of wine making*
*estimate by First Venture
Source: University of B.C. Wine Research Centre
Ran with fact box "To Your Health", which has been appended to the end of the story.
(c) The Vancouver Sun 2005
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