French government threatens organic winemaker with jail for refusing to use pesticide

Saturday, March 29, 2014 by: Julie Wilson
Tags: organic winemaker, pesticides, French government

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(NaturalNews) A French farmer, attempting to maintain his biodynamically grown vineyard, is facing six months of jail time after he violated a court order last month forcing him to use pesticides on his organic farm.

Emmanuel Giboulot owns and operates an organic vineyard in eastern France where he produces organic and biodynamic vines. A biodynamic farm functions as a whole organism and relies on both organic biological practices and metaphysical practices. Farmers who use this method consider their farms to possess its own life force dependent on a thriving ecosystem free of chemical fertilizers.

Contrasting with Giboulot's practices, the city of Dijon requires its farmers to treat their crops with pesticides, particularly Pyrevert, to prevent spreading of the grapevine disease flavescence doree, which is caused by the leafhopper, Scaphoideus titanus.

While French agricultural officials argue that pesticides are necessary to prevent the grapevine disease, Giboulot counters that the chemicals destroy the ecosystem including insects, animals and other plants contributing to the overall vitality of the farm.

The farm was passed on to Giboulot by his father, who began converting to organic, sustainable methods during the 1970s.

"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 unproved," said Giboulot.

Similar to organic farming, biodynamic methods include "humane treatment of animals, food quality and soil health," like using natural compost and green manures.

In order to understand the true concept of biodynamic farming, uses this analogy: "Conventional farming is to biodynamic farming as conventional medicine is to homeopathic."

Once farmers began using chemical fertilizers in the 20th century, the quality of the soil began to deteriorate along with the health conditions of their crop and livestock. Dr. Rudolph Steiner, scientist, philosopher and founder of the Waldorf School, invented the idea of biodynamic methods in Europe in 1924.

He believed "that a farm is a living organism and should be self-contained and self-sustaining" and that a "farm should be able to create and maintain everything needed to stay healthy and fruitful -- an alternative agricultural idea that doesn't include chemicals."

Pesticides linked to lower sperm counts

Not only do pesticides harm the biodiversity of a farm, but they can also affect the health of farmers. A recent study completed by researchers at the Institut de Veille Sanitaire questioned whether pesticides used on vineyards lowered the sperm count of French men.

Scientists found a substantial decrease in sperm count occurring among the regions of Aquitaine and Midi-Pyrenees in southwestern France, two large areas known for wine production.

The chemicals used on the crops (which, by the way, vineyards apply more pesticides than any other agricultural process) have been known to "disrupt men's hormones and interrupt sperm production."

Some call the study inconclusive, citing an earlier study which found that men living close to vineyards in the Burgundy and Loire Valley regions of France as not appearing to suffer from lowered sperm counts.

Denis Thiery, a vine specialist at the French National Institute for Agronomic Research, believes the pyrethrin-based pesticide product "is toxic not only to insects, but birds, animals and even people.

"Its effect on the disease isn't great. It doesn't kill all insects and the disease continues to spread quickly," said Thiery.

Reports argue that there's no way to completely control the disease, and that agricultural officials should monitor and destroy vineyards infected with the disease rather than preventively treating all crops with chemicals.

Giboulot is expecting to hear the verdict regarding his sentence on April 7. He has already been fined $1,390 for his refusal to spray his vineyard. The criminal charges aggressively brought against Giboulot by French officials have caused an uprising among the people. Approximately 40,000 supporters have signed a petition in support of Giboulot, demanding the charges be dropped.

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