Laxative chemical permitted for use in Australian wines

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Food Standards Australia has ruled that a chemical used in laxatives and toothpaste is safe for use in wine.

Winemakers will begin using sodium carboxymenthyl cellulose, more commonly known as cellulose gum in wines manufactured in Australia, according to The Australian

The chemical, also known as food additive E466, prevents crystals and cloudiness in white and sparkling wines.

The Winemakers Federation of Australia has been calling for permission to use the chemical, because they say it will be cheaper than the current reliance on filtration and refrigeration.

Now Food Standards has concluded that the chemical is safe for use in wines.

"As a result of changes in temperature during transport and storage, tartrate can crystallise in wine, resulting in cloudy wine with sediment, which is undesirable to many consumers," the ruling states.

"Sodium CMC is added to the wine towards the end of the production process . . . (so that) chilling or filtration steps are not required."

Food Standards concluded that chemical, which is extracted from wood fibres treated with an alkali and acid, does not raise any public health or safety concerns.

"Use of the additive to stabilise wine and sparkling wine is technologically justified and would be expected to provide benefits to wine producers and consumers as an alternative to current treatments,” it said.

Cellulose gum is already used in some European wines, the report said.

Up until now these wines could not be imported because Australia had a ban on the additive.

The major problem with using the chemical is around Australian labelling laws, which will not require manufacturers to disclose on the bottle whether the contents contain cellulose gum.

The move may encourage more Australian wine drinkers to move more towards organic wines, and industry that is increasing at a steady rate.

If the consumers concern is with the change to taste, rather than purity or ethical reasons, Winemakers Federation spokesperson Tony Battaglene does not believe there will be any difference.

"It’s environmentally very friendly because it doesn’t use a lot of energy," he said.

"I don’t think consumers would be concerned one way or another."
Hunter Valley boutique winery Pierre’s Wines calculates the additive will cut production costs by 20c a bottle.

Owner Peter Went said drinkers often mistook crystals in wine for glass fragments.

"This will improve the quality and the economics of wine production," he said.

"In Australia traditionally we cool the wine down to a temperature of minus four degrees for a few days before bottling it, but it costs a lot of electricity to cool down 100,000 bottles of wine."