Bayer Will Pay Fines for Fungicide Damage to Wine Crops

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–November 16, 2015.  Bayer CropScience, the manufacturer of neonicotinoid pesticides that are linked to severe decline in pollinator populations, is expected to pay fines to multiple countries in Europe for wine grape damages associated with another of its pesticides. Citing “atypical symptoms” resulting from the use of a relatively new fungicide, Bayer initially sent out a warning to wine growers to cease use of their product. Now, Bayer is collecting data and assessing how much it will offer to wine growers for the damages its product has caused.

European grape growers, including vineyards in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and Switzerland, have reported deformed leaves and lower yields after using Moon Privilege, also known as Luna Privilege in some markets, from the German company’s CropScience unit. In Switzerland, losses are estimated at 80 million Swiss francs ($83.73 million), as reported by marketing group Swiss Wine to Reuters. Swiss Wine’s general secretary estimates harvest losses totaling 6.65 million kilos (14 million pounds) of grapes in 2015, or about 4.85 percent of 2014’s crop. It is also estimated that wine makers have lost approximately six million bottles of wine, with Pinot Noir grapes and Chasselas, a white wine grape, hardest hit. Switzerland’s Federal Office of Agriculture suspended its approval of Moon Privilege in wine growing in July.

“Bayer will on a voluntary basis compensate affected wine growers which have used the Moon Privilege/Luna Privilege fungicide last year,” a Bayer spokesman said to Reuters, adding that no “clear cause” has been determined.

In addition to the possibility of crop damage and subsequent monetary loss from the use of pesticides, vineyard workers, owners, and their families can suffer from health effects caused by the prophylactic use of these toxic chemicals. The active ingredient in Luna Privilege fungicide, fluopyram, is classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a likely carcinogen to humans. Fluopyram also affects the liver, and has led to liver tumors in rats at high doses. Thyroid effects have also been observed. Even consumers can be wary of conventionally grown wine grapes. An examination of 300 French wines in 2013 found that 90 per cent contained traces of the chemicals most commonly used to treat vines. Thirty-three chemicals found in fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides showed up in wines, and every wine showed some detectable trace of chemicals. (The study can be found here in French.)

Unfortunately, there are no EU toxicity limits for bottled wine, only for wine grapes before fermentation. Other reports have also identified several pesticide residues in wine. The health impacts of pesticide exposure to vineyard farmworkers is also a concern. According to a PAN-Europe report, “Published scientific analysis suggests that those exposed to pesticides in grape production suffer a higher incidence of allergic rhinitis, respiratory problems, cancers, and chromosomal and nuclear abnormalities, as well as lower neurological capacities.”

Some vineyard owners are taking a stand against the use of pesticides in wine production. Emmanuel Giboulot, an organic winemaker in Burgundy, France, is part of a gathering movement that says the French wine industry’s excessive use of pesticides and fungicides has undermined its own argument that good or great wine can only flow from “terroir” –or natural conditions of soil or climate. Mr. Giboulot refused to comply with a government order mandating vineyards be sprayed to control flavescence dorée disease, citing that it was not an immediate threat in his region, and that pesticides posed more harm than good. His resolve against systemic pesticide spraying won broad support across the globe, and his conviction was overturned.

Despite fines, safety procedure overhauls, and lengthy trials, chemical and pesticide manufacturing and use still poses hazards for workers, nearby residents, consumers, and crop damage. Decreasing marketplace demand for noxious chemicals in favor of least-toxic biopesticides, organic, and sustainable alternatives on farms, will reduce the need to produce these chemicals. Like Mr. Giboulot, vineyard owners and workers can turn towards organic agriculture to protect themselves from the harmful effects of toxic pesticides. The organic wine market has grown –the share of organically produced French wines rose from 2.6 percent in 2007 to 8.2 percent by the end of 2012. According to the New York Times, contamination of organic vineyards from neighboring areas continues to threaten the industry. In the U.S., only wine made with organic grapes and naturally occurring sulfites can be labeled as organic wine.

For more information on ways to ensure that organic production continues to represent a production system that protects public health, the environment,  biodiversity, water quality, and enhancement of soil fertility practices that eliminate the need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that contribute to global climate change.

Sources: Reuters, www.beyondpesticides.org

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.