Pesticide labelling on conventional wines should be ‘mandatory’, says Isabelle Legeron MW

Pesticides and other artificial chemicals used in conventional winemaking should be listed as ingredients on the end product, according to a French MW leading the charge for a low intervention revolution.

The debate on certifications for natural, organic and biodynamic wines has been rumbling in France for some time. Last summer, a member of one of the country’s far-right political parties attempted to launch a consultation to create a blueprint for a legal definition of natural wine. Sales of organic wines have risen in UK supermarkets within the past two years, and in the on-trade, companies like Bibendum are making more of an effort to educate their customers on eco-friendly alternatives. But as it stands, many are put off by the lack of official standards in eco-friendly vinification and viticulture, with critics such as US-born Robert Parker calling the movement an “undefined scam“.

There are discrepancies, too, in the requirements for some wineries to label their products as organic. In the US, wines labelled ‘organic’ cannot contain added sulphites. Wines that have added sulphites but are otherwise organic, are labelled ‘wine made from organic grapes’. In the UK, however, the wine only needs to come from organic fruit to receive accreditation.

The EU has strict guidelines on organic and biodynamic farming, but separate countries within the union have rules of their own, which leaves room for interpretation. A radical solution, proposed by Isabelle Legeron MW, would be to do away with traditional guidelines and make all producers list whatever they use.

“It is important that ‘natural wine’ be protected by law,” Legeron, France’s first female Master of Wine, told the drinks business, “but it is actually just as important, and probably more so, that non-natural producers be clearly identifiable as well. In fact, if this were the case then there would be no need to categorise natural wines per se as labelling would speak for itself.”

Legeron is the founder of London’s RAW Wine Fair, an annual trade and consumer-focused event for producers in the industry who prioritise low intervention winemaking. It welcomes industry folk with varying approaches to viticulture, whether its swapping out chemicals for copper in the vineyard, sowing local wildflowers between the vines, or cutting down on sulphates in the winery. The only strict rule is that they must be making an effort to change conventional practices.

Conventional wines, made with pesticide-sprayed grapes, Legeron claims, are damaging to the health of those that grow them as well as to those that drink them. The MW is working closely with Olivier Paul-Morandini, founder of the Transparency for Organic Wine Association (TOWA), to campaign for more transparency on the winemaking process at an EU-wide level. Both Legeron and Morandini’s team of researchers believe that pesticides are damaging to everyone from the consumer to the insects they repel.

Many researchers cast doubt on the idea that chemical repellents are harmful. A recent scientific study in the US found traces of a herbicide commonly used in weed killer in several leading wine and beer brands. While the scale of their reach may be alarming, an adult would need to consume “140 glasses of wine a day containing the highest glyphosate level measured just to reach the level that California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has identified as ‘No Significant Risk Level’”, according to a spokesperson for the Wine Institute.

That said, the TOWA research team claim that quantity is not the issue. In Europe, neurological, inflammatory, and chronic illnesses such as asthma have steadily increased in recent years. “To blame, mainly, are pesticides,” Alexandra Bouard, Lecturer of Agri-Food Law at the University of Reims, and a spokesperson for TOWA said.

“Modern toxicology teaches us that it’s not the amount one consumes that makes it harmful.” TOWA claims that there are many factors besides the sheer volume of wine consumption that can affect the average drinker, such as the period of exposure to toxins over the course of one’s life, the duration of each exposure, or “the fusion of different potent molecules.”

Even weaker dosages can still create a “cocktail effect”, claims TOWA. Pesticides, it said, can be detected in human DNA for as many as three generations “even in situations where the descendants have never come into direct contact with the pollutant.”

“We need better labelling laws for alcohol,” Legeron told db, “and mentions of pesticides and herbicides used in the growing of the plants should also be mandatory as well. Only then will consumers have real, informed choice.”

It is a policy that Legeron takes seriously at her own event. All producers exhibiting at the fair fair, which will run from Sunday to Monday to coincide with #rawwineweek (6-13 March), have to submit sulphite analyses, and growers have to list any additives and/or aids used in their making.

More than 150 natural wine producers from around the world will be converging on London in March for the next Raw Wine Fair, including Gut Oggau, Château Le Puy and Domaine Tawse.

12 Responses to “Pesticide labelling on conventional wines should be ‘mandatory’, says Isabelle Legeron MW”

  1. Kamil says:

    Organic farming also allows pesticides.

    “Non-organic wines, made with pesticide-sprayed grapes, are damaging to the health of those that grow them as well as to those that drink them, she said. ”
    Any scientific proof for that? (more than clickbait where some microscopic parts where found in wine)

  2. You’re right when it comes to weedkillers or pesticides, consumers cannot be the vintners’ first concern. They’ll die of cirrhosis before the chemicals poison them. However, when a consumer buys a non-organic wine she/he endorses an evil practice: the modern scorched earth policy. The workers, as well as the environment, are very much exposed. These poisons disrupt the biodiversity of the soil, water and air but above all, they are a health hazard for the people living or working around the vineyards. Chemical wines are by far the best expression of their terroir, what can you expect from a devastated place?

  3. Tom Higgins says:

    Yet another article where the writer clearly does not know or understand the definition of “Pesticides”. Pesticides are any substance used to mitigate a pest. Thus, sulfur and copper (traditionally called the Bordeaux mix) are considered a pesticide. ALL vinifera wines must have pesticides applied to them to prevent fungi like downy and powdery mildew or they will, quite simply, DIE. Lastly, I’m not sure that poisoning the soil with copper (which is what they are discovering in vineyards that have been sprayed with copper for decades) is “natural” for the sustainability of the vineyard.

  4. Malcolm Reeves says:

    Boring. Isn’t the same person who got on this bandwagon earlier. Why target just wine – why not potatoes, broccoli, corn, apples, pears, apricots …… the list is endless. It is bad luck about the billions of people who have died eating our current supply of food. Mind you it has taken most people 80, 90 or even 100 years to have been poisoned by our current food supply. Everything in moderation and controlled. Can’t say that as a “MW” it impresses me.
    All wines are composed of chemicals. Also what is an artificial chemical.
    I have yet to come across a so-called “natural wine” that has rated a mention or recommendation.

    • Guillaume says:

      Do organic wines taste better?
      Yes, according to experts ratings… a study published in the Journal of Wine Economics compiled expert ratings from 3 leading wine publications (Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator) to assess the quality for 74,000 wines produced in California by 3,800 wineries between 1998 and 2009.

      The results indicate that eco-certification is associated with a statistically significant increase in wine quality rating by 4.1 points on average!

  5. Andrea Gabbrielli says:

    Essentially ideological article. We make statements but are not shown with scientific data. Cicero pro domo sua (natural wines)

  6. David Jeffery says:

    Aside from the justifiable sentiment expressed in some other comments, once you get past any thoughts regarding the motives for such a stance it is so simple, right, “do away with traditional guidelines and make all producers list whatever they use.” Why not also give the analytical results for things such as pesticides, heavy metals, etc., whether producers deliberately added them or not if it really is a health issue? Isn’t that why there are safety standards set down in food standards codes the world over? Contamination is a natural occurrence too so can anyone guarantee their product has no pesticide residue or does not test positive for anything else deemed unnatural or artificial – that’s one flipside to it. I would hazard a guess that at the very least, “natural” or low-intervention wines (from grapes grown in orderly rows and made into wines with modern winemaking equipment?) could show traces of various things that they would not want to put on a label.

  7. Keith Pritchard says:

    On another note, many plants grown without use of pesticides rely on their natural defenses which are natural pesticides that have mutagenic and other possible effects. Anyway winemaking is a naturally self cleansing process that removes more than about any other food process. The quantities residual are miniscule and the body has natural buffers to deal with impurities. Just like microbial avoidance leads to less effective immune system.

  8. Tim Marshall says:

    Please, the story about ‘natural pesticides’ is completely wrong and an invention of a chemical industry activist called Avery. The so called ‘natural pesticides’ are in fact antioxidants, flavanoids and other phytochemicals that are also healthful and recommended in the diet. Sure everything is toxic in excess. Anyway those natural chemicals have provoked an evolutionary response (e.g. kidneys, liver etc) to get rid of them. It is the totally novel chemicals we should be worried about as we haven’t got a pathway to get rid of them and they bio-accumulate (natural chemicals hardly can do that).
    Also organic growers can use certain natural chemicals, but under supervision. The stronger natural pesticides are listed as restricted meaning they have to be justified as to why they are needed and approved in advance every year in addition to the normal inspection requirement, and are limited to specific crop, area and volume and possibly time and metjod of application.
    Please go and read an organic standard before criticizing it.

  9. Angelo says:

    This indeed is an interesting topic and so far we have some good points made by readers. I will add my 20 c worth as a grower and wine producers. First lets set the record straight on organic wine. There are two parts Part 1 the grape grower and his/her vineyard management practice. Agree we only spray Sulfur and Copper in the vineyard with no herbicides. The point that on of the readers feedback pointed that whilst these are for controlling fungicides that can also be classed as pesticides. So strike one for use and certified organic wines where growers have used registered organic copper and sulfur in their vineyards. Yes they are certified as organic. Spray drift, well that is an interest one as sprays used in agriculture can carry for over 20 km on a reasonable still day. I really do not know what sprays land users 20 km away from us used. I am sure it would be a mixed bag. So even if I only use registered organic products in the vineyard there is no guarantee that the 100% pesticides and herbicide free. Part 2 wine making process in the winery. This is a tricky one mainly for organic wines as there is a list of additives that can be used as long as they comply with organic standards and they do not exceed maximum allows then we are safe to be called and label the wines as organic. Now with non organic wine its a free for all. Register products are used with withholding period before fruit is picked. In the winery the list of additives is increased to include those not permitted in organic wine and blending with other finished wines purchased to satisfied demand or reduce over all cost of finished wine. Yes bit of a circus but that’s what happens. So what is the simple solution for the customer?
    Forget about organic natural ect what does the consumer want to know? Best solution wine analyses in certified independent lab of those elements which health authority and consumers what and need to know. Problem with organic certification there is no actual analyses carried out on wine. There are soil test,tissue samples auditing of records and lots more very costly and time consuming for the producer. Lets face it we can perform drug tests on people why not test wine to ensure it is with in accepted levels of residue and free of nasty stuff that does pose concern to consumers and harmful to environment and workers.

  10. Fitoru says:

    I love wines. They really do help with keeping the heart healthy.

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