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TV documentary puts Bordeaux and pesticides in spotlight

A French television documentary about the health risks posed to children by pesticide use in agriculture has put the spotlight on the Bordeaux region, where a protest is expected this weekend.

France 2’s documentary pin-pointed the Gironde administrative region, with Bordeaux at its epicentre, as the country’s largest user of pesticides.

More than 3m people tuned in to watch the programme, with the provocative title, ‘pesticides, our children at risk’.

It highlighted that 132 schools were situated close to Bordeaux vineyards, picking up on a debate around so-called ‘sensitive sites’ that emerged after pesticide drift was blamed for several school children falling ill in Bordeaux’s Blaye area in 2014.

In reaction to that incident, Bordeaux winemakers undertook to spray only in certain hours, and several producers near to sensitive sites have built hedgerows to prevent drift, according to local wine trade bodies.

Bernard Farges, president of the Bordeaux wine council (CIVB), said this week that he watched ‘the whole documentary, from start to finish, with careful attention’.

As reported in Jane Anson’s Decanter.com column today (11 February), Farges said 45% of Bordeaux winemakers are now registered as using sustainable agriculture, which promises to reduce and monitor pesticides.

But, a protest is being organised by non-governmental organisations in Bordeaux centre for this Sunday (14 February). Dubbed the ‘white march’, it is a direct consequence of the France 2 documentary.

The French government has a strategy to cut pesticide use in all agriculture, known as the Ecophyto 2018 plan.

Many winemakers say that they have sought to minimise use of chemicals on their vineyards, and there has been a rise in organic and biodynamic methods in several regions, including Bordeaux.

Some producers have sought to experiment with diseases resistant vines in an attempt to create a ‘no spray’ vineyard.

But, pesticide use has repeatedly been in the public eye in recent years. Alongside the school in Blaye, a former Bergerac vineyard worker successfully sued her ex-employer over pesticide-related illness – believed to be a first in France.

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