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French Winemakers Face Prosecution for Refusing to use Pesticides

I just finished reading an eBook, Into Wine, written by French sommelier Olivier Magny. As I am sure many can agree, I think it important to continually read about industry developments and about wine generally. While I enjoyed Mr. Magny’s publication, what I found most interesting was his discussion about organic and biodynamic wines, particularly with respect to the use—or, more appropriately, the disuse—of pesticides. (A short overview on biodynamic and organic wines is available here.) The popularity and quality of both organic and biodynamic have grown substantially over the course of several years, and Mr. Magny exemplifies the development of such in his book. As a wine lawyer, I am not as involved in the actual production of wine itself as much as I would like to be, and it is always refreshing to receive the perspective of someone who is.

I thought of Mr. Magny’s book when I recently read a New York Times opinion discussing the Burgundy region’s current position on pesticides in wine. See Pesticides in French Wine. The Ministry of Agriculture is known for its support of the rapidly expanding organic wine industry in France. See, e.g., French Minister for Agriculture Stéphane Le Foll Announces the Setup of a Roadmap for the Development of Agro-Ecology. Additionally, the author notes that there is growing public concern about the amount of pesticides present in French wine (“France is still the third-highest user of pesticides in the world after the United States and Japan, and the highest user in Europe, applying 110,000 metric tons of pesticides per year,” the residue of which certain tests have confirmed present even on organic wines). Id. 

However, despite this fact and the growth and support of organic wines in France, an organic wine producer in Burgundy was recently “charged with breaking the law for refusing to use Pyrevert, a pyrethrin pesticide.” Id. The applicable law is the Cote d’Or-wide directive. See Biodynamic Winemaker Prosecuted for Not Treating Vines with Insecticide. French vines are susceptible to flavescence dorée, which is a bacterial disease that is contagious to other vines and transmitted by a leafhopper. See INRA: Grapevine Flavescense Dorée. The wine producer, Emmanuel Giboulot, argues that, despite refusing to use pesticides, there is no indication that his vines are infected. Additionally, the producer states that Pyrevert is nonspecific to leafhoppers and kills what is deemed by growers to be beneficial bacteria as well. See French Minister for Agriculture Stéphane Le Foll Announces the Setup of a Roadmap for the Development of Agro-Ecology. Despite the above, the wine producer faces six months in prison and a fine of 30,000 Euros (or roughly $41,000). Id.

The New York Times specifically reports:

France has pledged, under the 2007 Grenelle law on the environment, to reduce its pesticide consumption by 50 percent by 2018. To help meet this goal, Stéphane Le Foll, the minister of agriculture, announced on Nov. 13 a new sustainable agriculture bill that is scheduled to be submitted to the French Assembly in January for debate. Considering organic producers who refuse pre-emptive use of pesticides as criminals will not help France’s transition to sustainable agricultural practices. The law requiring such use in Burgundy is not only bad policy, it is terrible publicity for French wine. The law should be changed, and the French Assembly should pass the new bill on sustainable agriculture this month. Id.

What will be interesting to see is how France follows through on its pledge, as well as how organic wine producers will be treated in the future. It is conflicting that France would pledge to reduce its pesticide consumption by 2018 and then prosecute an organic producer for refusing to use pesticides on his grapes. Perhaps what the Ministry of Agriculture is attempting to highlight is that it seeks to reduce the usage of pesticides, but not completely eliminate the use—although that theory is adverse to the concept of organic and biodynamic wines in their entirety.

Lindsey A. Zahn


Lindsey is the founder and author of On Reserve: A Wine Law Blog. She is an alcohol beverage and food attorney and is admitted to the New York State Bar.

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