By Wes Maxwell
French environmentalists are outraged after the EU Environmental Committee elected to extend the licensing for glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup. Upon hearing news of “probable” carcinogenic effects of glyphosate, the French government motioned to implement a ban outlawing the use of glyphosate and similar herbicidal chemicals by June 30, 2016.
Although they were met with opposition by the EU, French government officials remained united in their dedication to finding a healthier alternative to the detrimentally harmful pesticide by the end of the newly extended deadline.
Because of France’s booming wine-making and farming industries, the country has developed a toxic dependence on weed-killing herbicides.
France vows to find alternative to glyphosate-based herbicides
As the world’s largest producer of wine, France realizes the importance of maintaining its vineyards, but also recognizes the need to find alternatives to the toxic pesticides its agricultural industries have become so reliant upon.
Aside from having probably carcinogenic effects on humans, recent studies have linked the agricultural industry’s use of glyphosate to “a host of health risks, such as cancer, miscarriages, and disruption of human sex hormones.”
According to Arnaud Descotes, deputy technical and environmental director of the Comittee Interprofesionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), France “has been actively promoting alternatives to herbicides for the last 15 years to our 15,000 grape growers and we will continue to assist them in finding suitable alternatives.”
While most alternative methods are only effective at eliminating 80 percent of weeds, their focus [PDF] is more so on “maintaining weed populations at manageable levels.”
Natural pesticide alternatives
Irma C. Willis, author of Progress in Environmental Research, conducted a series of studies on potential alternative weeding practices for France’s vineyards, namely the use of grass cover crops. In her studies, she found “numerous works have shown that the grass cover [crops] reduce erosion and run-off due to sediment deposition and increases water infiltration.”
Additionally, Willis found that by using grass covered regions of crop as “buffer zones”, surface water contamination caused by pesticides can be dramatically reduced.
Although France’s population remains split on the issue, some winemakers have begun voicing their support for the impending ban on glyphosate.
Jean-Pierre Fleury, a biodynamic pioneer and vigneron in Champagne, said “[i]f France and Champagne want to continue to differentiate themselves from other wine-producing countries by invoking their unique terrior, they need to start looking after this terroir by putting a stop the pollution of their soils.”
Whether the EU actually approves France’s proposed ban on glysophate at the end of the newly extended deadline remains to be seen, but at least winemakers and government officials are taking the proper steps to prepare for a pesticide-free farming system.
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