Burgundy winemaker faces jail for refusing to use pesticides

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An organic winemaker from France’s Burgundy region is due in court Monday for refusing to use pesticides on his vines despite a local government order.

Emmanuel Giboulot, who farms a 10-hectare estate in the region’s Côte d’Or wine-growing area, is accused of ignoring a local directive to spray his vines with pesticides to kill a leaf-hopping insect that spreads the “flavescence Dorée” bacterial disease.

Flavescence Dorée first appeared in the Armanac region of south-west France in 1949, and has steadily spread throughout the country.

It can kill young vines and seriously reduce the productivity of mature vineyards. And while there is no cure for the infection, use of pesticides has been found to stop the spread.

Last June, the local administration of the Beaune region ordered all vineyard owners in the Côte d’Or area to use pesticides.

But Giboulout refused to comply, arguing that the order would destroy decades of family work to create genuinely organic wine. He faces up to six months jail and a 30,000 euro fine.

‘All vines must be treated by everyone’

Giboulot’s defiance has won backing of leading environmental groups, such as Greenpeace and France’s Green party, while garnering more than 100,000 supporters in a Facebook campaign.

“Using pesticides kills all insects, including bees, and threatens the balance of an already-fragile ecosystem,” he says on a website calling for supporters to his cause. “It destroys nature, destroys life and damages people in turn.”

Environmentalists argue that instead of ordering vine growers to use pesticides, local authorities should only monitor the disease, uproot affected vines and limit the mandatory use of pesticides to the areas under threat.

“In the absence of a proven health threat, freedom of choice should be given,” said Sandrine Belier, a Green party lawmaker in the European Parliament.

But the local authorities insist that using pesticides is a vital step to save the regions vineyards for catastrophe, and that Giboulot’s refusal to comply is putting his fellow winemakers at risk.

“All vines must be treated by everyone for the treatment to work,” said local official Olivier Lapotre, who insisted that the policy was paying off, with just 0.2 hectares contaminated in 2013 compared with 11.3 hectares in 2012.

“It’s a deadly disease for vines and very contagious and it’s because of this that such measures are obligatory,” Lapotre added.

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