France's Senate has backed tougher rules on pesticide spraying following concerns about residues drifting into nearby villages from vineyards, but the house rejected campaigners' calls for mandatory pesticide-free zones.
France’s Senate approved a proposed law that would enable local authorities to force winemakers – and farmers in general – to refrain from spraying pesticides near to ‘vulnerable people’ by avoiding certain times of day or using special equipment if working near to houses or public buildings.
If that is not workable, local authorities would have the freedom to set a ‘minimum distance’ between pesticide spraying and a particular public building or village boundary.
Politicians have spent several weeks discussing the issue as part of amendments to a proposed law on the future of French agriculture. The bill must still be ratified by the National Assembly in September.
Debate on pesticide use near to villages, and particularly schools and hospitals, has largely been sparked by several Bordeaux school children falling ill due to suspected poisoning from pesticide spraying in a nearby vineyard in May.
None were seriously hurt, but the incident was enough for France’s new environment minister, Segolene Royal, to announce her intention to ban pesticide spraying within 200 metres of schools.
Environmental campaign groups, such as Generations Futures, have also called for a ban on pesticide use near to villages and towns.
However, senators were unconvinced by the idea of mandatory exclusion zones. Some winemakers believe a 200m limit would cause significant problems for the sector.
Jeremy Ducourt, vice president of the union of Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur producers, told Decanter.com, ‘We are fully in agreement that something has to be done to ensure safer pesticde applications, but a 200m limit would affect between [approximately] 15 to 20% of the Bordeaux vineyard, and similar across France.’
After news of the sick school children in Villeneuve-de-Blaye, near to Bordeaux, local wine authorities sent out reminders to producers on best practice.
Bordeaux’s interprofessional trade council, the CIVB, believes enough controls are in place in its region.
‘We have already sent out a directive of best practise to winemakers asking that no treatments are applied to vines that are located directly next to schools and public buildings during opening hours, so effectively Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm,’ said CIVB spokesperson Christophe Chateau.
‘The 200-metre suggestion came from Segolene Royal, but it is not practical. Our prefectural limit for now remains 50m, but with sensible and safe application.’
Government agriculture official Francois Hervieu, who is based in the Bordeaux region of Aquitaine, previously told Decanter.com that pesticide droplets drifting into villages is a ‘general difficulty across rural communities in France’. The trick for parties involved is to find a compromise, he said.
Hervieu’s department has told winemakers that they should not be spraying vines in winds stronger than 19km per hour.
Pressure has been mounting on France’s winemakers to reduce their reliance on pesticides as part of the national government’s ‘EcoPhyto’ plan, which was launched in 2008 with the aim of reducing pesticide use across all agriculture by 50% by 2018.
Growing numbers of French winemakers see advantages in cutting pesticide use, according to many in the trade.
‘We are citizens as well as winemakers. The less chemicals we can use the better it is for everyone,’ said Nicolas Glumineau, general manager of Chateau Pichon-Lalande, classified ‘second growth’ in Bordeaux’s Pauillac appellation.
Written by Chris Mercer and Jane Anson in Bordeaux