EU DECISION ON COPPER: As EU drastically restricts allowable copper, organic grape growers run out of options.

Last week the European Union drastically reduced the amount of copper that grape farmers can use each year in their vineyards.

Through the 2018 harvest, the EU allowed growers to use 6 kg per hectare per year.

Beginning on January 1, 2019, they will be allowed to use “an average of” 4 kg per hectare per year over a seven-year period.

According to the Official Journal of the European Union Vol. 61 (December 14, 2018):

    It is, in particular, appropriate to restrict the use of plant protection products containing copper compounds to a maximum application rate of 28 kg/ha of copper over a period of 7 years (i.e. on average 4 kg/ha/year) in order to minimise the potential accumulation in soil and the exposure for not target organisms, while taking into account agro-climatic conditions occurring periodically in Member States leading to an increase of the fungal pressure. When authorising products Member States should pay attention to certain issues and strive for the minimisation of application rates.

News of the reduction will undoubtedly raise concern among organic grape growers in Italy and beyond. They rely on copper treatments to combat fungal diseases.

Leading Italian winemakers have spoken out against the pending decision after it was proposed earlier this year. Many claim it will gravely affect their ability to farm organically, thus threatening their livelihood.

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, copper sulphate (“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.

Today (December 18, 2018), the EU Science Hub blog published a post entitled “EU topsoil Copper concentration highest in vineyards, olive groves and orchards.”

The authors report that “land use and management are the major cause of changes in soil Cu [copper] concentrations, and [their findings] highlight the need for more sustainable, environmentally aware and soil friendly land management practices in order to limit the environmental and health risk associated with high copper concentrations in vineyards.”

“Vineyards,” they write, “were found to have almost three times the average soil Cu concentration (49.26 mg/kg compared to the overall average of 16.85 mg/kg)…”

These levels represent a significant health risk, they note:

    Soil contamination can pose a significant risk to human health. Micronutrients such as copper are particularly relevant as they accumulate in plant tissues. Excess copper can result in liver disease and neurological problems. In addition, the high concentration of copper may cause environmental problems such as water contamination and loss of soil biodiversity.

According to the study, some of the highest concentrations of copper are found in parts of southern France and northern Italy.

Click here for previous my previous posts on this developing story.

News of the new EU norms was first reported in Italy by Maurizio Gily on his Millevigne blog.

Image via the Slow Food/Slow Wine blog.

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