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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: BORDELAIS. THE PESTICIDE DOES NOT ONLY WATER THE VINE

by Alexandra Chaignon

BORDELAIS. THE PESTICIDE DOES NOT ONLY WATER THE VINES

Translated Tuesday 30 April 2019, by Michaële Lafontant

Published in L’Humanité onThursday, April 11, 2019

L’Humanité publishes, exclusively, a study carried out in the Médoc by two associations of pregnant women, children and vineyard employees. This one reveals contamination with the most dangerous fungicides. In contradiction with the claims of wine organizations.

"It’s really scary. We don’t think we’re as exposed to danger as we are, but unfortunately yes... I’ll talk to my doctor about it. "This testimony comes from a vine worker in the Médoc. Anonymous. As grapes are the economic lung of the region, questioning the practices of winegrowers remains taboo. A few months ago, she agreed to participate in a survey on exposure to plant protection products, conducted by the Collectif Info Médoc Pesticides and the Eva pour la vie association. The objective: to see if these molecules, and in particular the most dangerous ones, are decreasing in the use of wine, as claimed by the Bordeaux organisations.

For this employee, the results are unfortunately equal to her fears, with a rate of fenhexamid (a fungicide used to treat the vine) more than 12 times higher than the norm! "The results speak for themselves," observes Marie-Lys Bibeyran, president of the Info Médoc Pesticides Collective. The reality on the ground is relentless and alarming. One more time. "In February 2013, a similar survey conducted by the NGO Générations futures revealed a high level of contamination of people who were indirectly exposed to pesticides. "Five years later, we wanted to know where we stand," she says, being careful not to compare the two approaches because the conditions are not identical.

"I only believe in what the field tells and it’s not brilliant"

The overall analysis of the hair samples of all the people tested - ten residents (five pregnant women and five children) and a group of ten winegrowers, who do not handle or do the treatments, all spread over eleven communes in the Médoc - shows less than encouraging results: of the 30 pesticides sought, 53% were detected. And, of these, 37.5% are possible carcinogens, 69% are possible reprotoxics and 37.5% are suspected endocrine disrupters. And above all 81% of them are classified as CMR, for carcinogens (which can lead to cancer), mutagens (which lead to genetic mutations) and reprotoxics (which affect fertility). "The wine companies of the Médoc want to make people believe that their practices have evolved and that the most dangerous molecules are no longer used. I only believe in the field. And it’s not brilliant," says the activist.


Employers’ failure to comply with safety obligations

While, this spring, the rows of vines have once again switched from green to orange through spraying, it must be said that the inhabitants of the Médoc remain the most forgotten, especially the most vulnerable. In the five pregnant women, 10 pesticides have been found, 50% of which are suspected of being endocrine disrupters, which have the ability to alter the functioning of the hormonal system. These results are all the more worrying because it is scientifically established that the foetus’ exposure to these chemical molecules can induce pathologies for the baby.

For children, aged 3 to 15 years at the time of sampling, 7 pesticides were detected out of 30, including Diuron, banned since 2008! The most contaminated sample was a growing 10-year-old child in which 4 reprotoxics, 3 carcinogens and 3 endocrine disrupters were detected. "These results should be compared to the health scandals: babies born without arms, the excess of pediatric cancers in Sainte-Pazanne, after the Preignac affair. It’s a time bomb," warns Marie-Lys Bibeyran.

But, not surprisingly, it is the wine workers who remain the most "contaminated": among them, 14 pesticides have been detected, 7 of which have been quantified, sometimes at abnormally high rates. "Samples are particularly worrying, including Boscalid (14 times higher) which can block an enzyme and cause severe encephalopathies and cancer in humans," the activist says. "According to Inserm, exposure to pesticides can lead to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, myeloma (blood cancer), prostate cancer. But also fertility problems and cognitive problems," says Dr. Pierre-Michel Périnaud, president of the Medical Alert on Pesticides. A link made by one of the workers of the vine tested: "The results are consistent with the difficulties I had in having my children. (...) I think that the presence in my body of these pesticides is a more than likely explanation. »

"I am shocked but not surprised," concludes Marie-Lys Bibeyran. The persistence of pesticides poses the problem of cultural practices. In other words, we are far from rid of the most dangerous molecules, despite the speeches. But it also reflects a broader issue of working conditions, with employers deliberately failing to meet their obligation to provide safety for their employees. This feeling of impunity is accentuated by the fact that there are few other sources of employment and a tradition of the omnipotence of wine-growing activity in the Médoc territory. »

How can we stop this situation of widespread poisoning? For anti-pesticide activists, the solution lies in changing practices, starting with a ban on CMR classified molecules, as recommended in a UN report, and moving towards organic or biodynamic viticulture. For Valérie Murat, President of Alerte aux toxiques, "a first step towards the elimination of pesticides would be to provide free support for vineyard treatment programmes without CMR". "When questioned, organizations respond that they are in compliance with the law. In a way, they are right. It is up to the legislator to act. It is not normal that, if the danger is proven, the products are still on the market. We need to review the marketing authorizations," says Stéphane Le Bot, deputy secretary of the CGT local union in Pauillac.

A sign that the situation is changing, however, is that the conversion to organic is accelerating: 8% of Bordeaux’s vineyards are now organic. "There is a trend, especially in the great classified growths," corroborates Claire Laval, co-spoken spokesperson for the Confédération paysanne de Gironde. "The pressure from society has led to a real awareness of the dangerousness of products. The speech orchestrated with the "if it is approved, it is safe" advanced by the major wine authorities is no longer taken for granted. »

A gap between announcements and actual practices

Nevertheless, there are strong oppositions, hidden behind a well-established discourse on "good environmental practices". As the trade unionist says, "there is always a rearguard fight to try to muddy the waters". Thus, according to the Conseil interprofessionnel du vin de Bordeaux (CIVB), "60% of the vineyard was certified by an HVE (for high environmental value) approach in 2017, compared to 35% in 2014". The same institution also ensures that between "2014 and 2016, the Bordeaux vineyard halved the use of pesticides classified as CMR, i.e. -55% in three years". "The HVE is a communication tool, set up with a lot of subsidies, which has no value," continues Claire Laval. "It is non-binding and does not meet any precise specifications, pesticides, including CMRs, can be used," continues Valérie Murat. The proof by the figures: the analyses carried out by the two associations show the gap between the announcements and the actual practices. As François Veillerette, director of the NGO Générations futures, concludes, "the revolution in Bordeaux wine growing has not yet taken place".

Alexandra Chaignon


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