Organic Wine Producer Nearly Imprisoned for Refusing to Spray Pesticides

Photo: Jeff Pachoud/AFP/Getty Images

Heather Callaghan
Activist Post

I still don’t feel guilty. It’s intolerable today to be forced to hide and to be frightened for taking a stand. –Emmanuel Giboulot

Last year I wrote about a major pesticide problem in French wines. One that had unfortunate results. For instance, 90% of those wines, even vintage, were contaminated with unsafe pesticide chemical levels. One farmer died from exposure, and wine farmers there were shown to have much higher rates of brain cancer and dementia.

One would think organic wines would be the way to go. French labels depict organic with the words Vin Biologique. But now, with a new directive that completely undermines “organic” – it is uncertain. That is, if this normally very American, Canadian and English trend on choking out organic small farm freedom continues in France.

Enter: winegrower, Emmanuel Giboulot who has been under fire for months for “flouting official regulations.”

He hails from the Burgundy region of France where an insect there, cicadelle or “leafhopper, is being blamed for a manifestation of a disease called flavescence dorée. Note: The Guardian is calling this a lethal disease giving the impression that it is killing people – it affects plants only, and farmers must uproot infected portions to keep good vines quarantined. It is allegedly invading vineyards of the Côte-d’Or area where farmers like Giboulot produce wines from chardonnay and pinot noir grapes.

Just a couple of months ago, he was facing serious prosecution from the French agriculture ministry stemming from last summer’s refusal to follow a rural code and thereby “failing to apply an insecticide treatment to his vineyard.” Of course, that would be a code that applies to non-organic farming practices only, as organic growers cannot be considered organic if spraying.

Authorities complained about having to uproot 30 acres of infected vines, and perhaps used this “emergency” (ongoing since the 1950s) to strong arm Giboulot into compliance. They increased the heat by threatening a six-month prison sentence and the American equivalent of nearly $42,000 in fines. Another French farmer was threatened the same way, but finally relented and sprayed. Giboulot still refuses.

In November, he said:

I am not irresponsible and I am not trying to be radical. I simply do not believe that systematic treatment, even without any symptoms of the disease, is the solution. I want to show people that there are options, and that we need to think about our own health and that of our customers. 

My father began converting to organic farming in the 1970s, and we are now fully organic and biodynamic. 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 unproven.

Ag officials and the media have pushed him into a corner by painting his farming methodology as kooky, religious woo-woo and controversial. Biodynamics is not only a holistic approach to the land, but also a philosophy for food creation, around since the 1920s, and helped to spawn what we know as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). He is among 450 wine producers alone, using this ideology, and is very concerned about the flagging bee population.

Giboulot received widespread support, garnered half a million petition signatures, caught the attention of green organizations, and even a parliament member. Prosecution must have scaled back their attack, because the judge finally ruled with them to ultimately fine Giboulot $1380 dollars.

Refusing to concede to any wrongdoing, Giboulot is appealing, and said:

I still don’t feel guilty. It’s intolerable today to be forced to hide and to be frightened for taking a stand.

Did you know this whole fiasco concerns vines on just 24 acres of land?

Heather Callaghan is a natural health blogger and food freedom activist. You can see her work at and Like at Facebook.

Recent posts by Heather Callaghan:

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