Pesticides in Bordeaux and the credibility of sustainable badges 

Arguments rage in Bordeaux where Valérie Murat, self-proclaimed ‘stone in the shoe’ of the region’s wine establishment, is having to crowdfund nearly €125,000 in order to continue her fight against the vineyard use of industrial products. Robert Joseph has the details.

Credit: Adobe Stock/sabthai
Credit: Adobe Stock/sabthai

Valérie Murat of the association Alerte Aux Toxiques (AAT) – Toxic Warning - has launched a fundraising appeal to help her to fight her conviction for ‘denigrating Bordeaux wines’. The background to the case was her publication of analyses showing the presence of pesticides in a number of Bordeaux wines certified with the label HVE (High Environmental Value), France’s designation for sustainable agriculture. 

In response, the CIVB (Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux) and 25 other regional bodies collectively sued Murat and the AAT for disparagement and, in February, she was ordered by the Libourne court to pay a fine of €125,000. According to French media, the court of appeal in Bordeaux made full payment of this sum a condition of any appeal Murat wanted to file against the verdict. 

After the ruling, Murat, the daughter of a vigneron who died of cancer stated that "The Libourne decision involves an exorbitant amount of money in order to have a guarantee of the right to appeal. This is an extremely serious matter. They are trying to make me sell the family inheritance of my late father who died of pesticides, namely the house where my mother lives". 

CIVB director Fabien Bova responded that the original complaint was based on the way Murat had expressed the results of the analysis, using terms such as 'Whoever drinks Bordeaux wine risks his life' and 'Bordeaux wines contain poisons'. These slogans, Bova said, denigrate the whole industry and go beyond freedom of expression.

Murat responded that she “never said drinking Bordeaux would make people die, but that to produce Bordeaux, vines are sprayed with the most dangerous pesticides from April to September every year”. Her comments, she explained, were taken out of context from a video interview that is no longer available to be seen.

The case can be traced back back to 2012 when James Murat, Valérie’s father, died of lung cancer that was officially recognised as having been caused by the sodium arsenite sprays he had been using on his vines for 42 years. Valérie Murat and her mother began their campaign against the phytopharmaceutical manufacturers the following year, attempting in 2014 to have them, and the government, charged with involuntary manslaughter. 

 

Activating the network

Over the last eight years Murat has built up a strong network of supporters, including some 20 groups such as Générations futures, Solidaires, Corporate Europe Observatory and Collectif Info Médoc Pesticides. Now these, and individuals in France and elsewhere, are being asked to help Murat pay the €125,000 fine.  

Murat, who will appeal the verdict once she has paid the fine and vows to continue her fight, describes herself as the ‘stone in the shoe of the CIVB’, and some revealing statistics do support her case. In 2014, two years after her father’s death, only 34 percent of Bordeaux’s producers were certified as organically or biodynamically farmed, or sustainably under HVE or Terra Vitis rules. The region was acknowledged to be one of France’s highest users of industrial chemicals. By 2020, according to the CIVB, that figure had risen to 65 percent. Around one vine in every seven – 14,000 of the region’s 100,000ha – in Bordeaux is now certified as organic. 

How much of this trend Murat might ask, was prompted by the publicity her case has enjoyed in the local media?

In response to the CIVB, Murat’s supporters, can also, point out that, apart from the organic vineyards, the official percentages conveniently refer to organically/sustainably certified estates rather than hectares of vines. The region hopes to get to 100 percent certification by 2030, but, by its own figures, that will mean converting a third of the region’s producers in a decade.

Meanwhile as Valérie Murat asks for contributions to her appeal fund, it will not hurt her cause that she is being asked to pay a penalty twice the size of the one Hubert de Bouärd of Chateau Angelus has agreed for influencing the 2012 St Emilion classification. 

Robert Joseph

 

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