Organic and biodynamic wine growers anxiously await EU decision on copper limits

Above: “Bordeaux Mixture” — copper sulfate and lime — has been used to prevent downy mildew in vineyards for generations.

Europe’s organic and biodynamic grape growers are anxiously waiting to hear whether or not the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will further limit the use of copper fungicide.

Last week, the European Union’s Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (PAFF) Committee met to discuss new restrictions on fungicides, including “the approval of the active substance copper compounds” which are allowed in organic and biodynamic grape farming.

Currently, the EU allows the use of up to 6 kg per hectare per year. The committee is considering limiting the amount to 4 kg per hectare per year.

Ever since the committee designated copper sulphate as a “candidate for substitution” (EU parlance for more restrictive limits), organic wine growers in France and Italy have lobbied to maintain the current limit.

“We are very concerned,” wrote Matilde Poggi, president of Italy’s Federation of Independent Grape Growers in May.

“For organic producers, there are no suitable alternatives to copper,” she noted in a press release issued by the group.

The federation has lobbied Italy’s agriculture ministry to oppose the proposed change.

European wine growers have used copper as a fungicide since the late 19th century.

The so-called Bordeaux Mixture — copper sulphate mixed with lime — is sprayed in vineyards primarily to prevent downy mildew (peronospora). Although there is little concern that copper affects the safety of the end product, its presence in the water table can make the land unsuitable for agricultural use.

Copper is a heavy metal and can be toxic to humans and animals. Because it has been used for so long in Europe, EFSA fears that its accumulation is affecting the environment and farmland health.

“My job is to protect the public health,” said last month EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis who is leading the discussion on proposed restrictions.

“Alternatives to copper remain very limited,” countered Eric Andrieu, chair of the EU Committee on pesticides. Organic winemaking could be threatened by the proposed limit, he noted.

Image via Wikipedia Creative Commons.

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