“Slow Food says ‘yes’ to limits on copper,” read the title of a post on the advocacy group’s website.
Earlier this summer, the European Union signaled that it might reduce the allowable amount of copper fungicide from 6 kg per hectare per year to 4 kg. The announcement has concerned organic grape growers who rely on copper treatments to combat fungal diseases. Leading organic growers have spoken out against the move and many claim it will gravely affect their ability to farm organically, thus threatening their livelihood.
“We are in favor of the reduction in the quantity of copper allowable per hectare that the EU is currently discussing. We hope it will lead to broader efforts in research on alternative and supplemental products,” said in the statement agronomist Francesco Sottile, a member of Slow Food’s technical advisory committee and a professor at the Slow Food University in Bra, Piedmont (UniSG).
“We are faced with a delicate question and our association has to keep a balanced outlook,” he added.
“Copper is a heavy metal and as such it can damage the soil and the microorganisms that live in the soil as it accumulates in the ground and the water table. For this reason, limits on its use are advisable… Copper doesn’t leave a residue on fruit or vegetables because it gets washed away. But it remains in the environment and is therefore potentially harmful. As an association, we are concerned with what consumers eat. But we also need to watch out for potentially critical situations in the fields and for people who work on farms.”
The heavy metal has been used in vineyards for more than 150 years to prevent peronospora (downy mildew). First developed in France in the second half of the 19th century, the “Bordeaux Mixture” has become an essential tool for grape growers who do not employ synthetic fungicides.
“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 majority of its members are organic growers.
After a very rainy season in Northern Italy this year, at least one grape growers association requested and received authorization to increase the maximum amount of copper allowable, from 6 kg per hectare to 9 kg. Many are concerned that organic grape growing will become unsustainable if greater restrictions are implemented.
Image via the Slow Food blog. Disclosure: I am an adjunct professor at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences (UniSG) and I am also a senior editor of Slow Food’s forthcoming Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of Italy, Slovenia, California, and Oregon.