Organic farming apparently is now a crime in at least one country, as organic winemaker Emmanuel Giboulot could face up to six months in prison and a $41,250 fine because he refused to spray the vines at his family’s organic vineyard with a pesticide.
Giboulot, of France, is being prosecuted for “failing to apply an insecticide treatment to his vineyard” last July, The Guardian reported. Officials from France’s agriculture ministry ordered Giboulot to spray a pesticide called Pyrevert on his vines because they suspected the plants were infested with the cicadelle, or leafhopper. The leafhopper can spread a disease called flavescence dorée, which can kill vines.
“My father began converting to organic farming in the 1970s, and we are now fully organic and biodynamic,” Giboulot told the wine website decanter.com. “I don’t want to undo decades of work applying a treatment where the effects on the health of the vines and the public are as yet unproven.”
Officials Claim Neurotoxin Pesticide is Organic
Giboulot uses organic or biodynamic wine production methods at his family vineyard near Dijon. He refuses to use pesticides. French officials contend that Pyrevert is “organic” because it is made from chrysanthemum flowers. Giboulot disagrees, and says it will disrupt the ecosystem at his vineyard. He also says it will harm bees.
“It kills not only the insect but also other fauna that are necessary for the natural balance in a vineyard,” the farmer told the French newspaper La Monde. At least one scientist agrees with Giboulot’s assessment.
“Even if Pyrevert is of natural origins it is damaging for the environment,” Denis Thiery of France’s National Institute for Argonomic Research said. “It is a neurotoxin that can affect not just insects, but birds, other animals, even the winemakers, depending on the doses used.”
Pesticide Might Not Work
The use of Pyervert might not stop the spread of the leafhopper, Thiery alleged.
“Not all the insects are killed and the epidemic continues to spread quickly,” Thiery said. “But, like all epidemics, we don’t know if the situation would be worse without the treatment.”
Giboulot asked in an interview with French news agency AFP: “Would we give chemotherapy to someone as a preventative measure against a potential future cancer?” Giboulot contends that his vines are not infested. He says he would use the pesticide if he saw the leafhopper on his vines, but hasn’t seen it. It “kills not only the insect but also other fauna that are necessary for the natural balance in a vineyard,” he said.
Winemaker to Folk Hero
Giboulot is now something of a folk hero in France, as 41,000 people have signed a petition calling for charges to be dropped against him. Over 400 people turned up to support him at a court hearing in Dijon on Monday.
At the hearing a prosecutor asked the court to suspend half of the prison sentence and reduce the fine to €1,000 or $1,375. It isn’t known whether the court will go along with the request or not. The court’s verdict will be announced on April 7.
“He made an ideological choice to refuse to obey the order,” public prosecutor Jeanne Delatronchette said of Giboulot.
Giboulot said he is “not irresponsible” and “not trying to be radical.”
“I simply do not believe that systematic treatment, even without any symptoms of the disease, is the solution,” he said. “I want to show people that there are options, and that we need to think about our own health and that of our customers.”