Organic winemaker faces jail for refusing to apply pesticide

grapes on the vine
CC BY 2.0 Megan Mallen

The French agriculture ministry has sentenced Emmanuel Giboulot to six months in jail and a €30,000 fine for failing to take preventative measures against a bacterial vine disease. Giboulot, an organic and biodynamic winemaker, is in violation of a directive to use pesticides to fight Flavenscence dorée, an infectious disease that threatens the Côte-d'Or region of Burgundy.

The Guardian reports that an estimated 30 acres of vines were destroyed by the disease in 2012. The pesticides aim to reduced the cicadelle population, a leafhopper believed to spread the Flavenscence dorée bacteria. According to The New York Times, France is the third highest user of pesticides in the world, following the U.S. and Japan.

Giboulot argues that the pesticide is harmful to beneficial insects and animals, and may not even be effective at preventing the vine disease. He has the option to use Pyrevert, a pesticide derived from chrysanthemum flowers, and not lose his organic label. Yet even this natural option is a neurotoxin.

"My father began converting to organic farming in the 1970s, and we are now fully organic and biodynamic," Giboulot told in November. "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."

The wine maker cultivates about 25 acres of vines, to produce Côte de Beaune and Hautes Côtes de Nuits wines. Giboulot's supporters started an online petition to get the charges dropped, and collected nearly 54,000 signatures at the time of publication.

Giboulot believes there are more natural means of preventing the vine disease. "I am not trying to be radical," 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."