The French wine industry, and indeed farming industry at large, is increasingly aware of the risks involved in using chemicals. A number of deaths and cancers have been linked to long-term exposure to chemicals and greater public interest in tracking food products and promoting green issues has prompted more research to ascertain the impact of certain molecules on human health. This latest study has shown that not only are the people actually using the chemicals at risk, but also wine growers who do not directly come into contact with them and even people living in proximity to areas that were sprayed. The study’s major shortcoming is that it was carried out on just fifteen people and therefore is not necessarily representative of France as a whole. However, when compared to the control group, the results speak for themselves. Of the fifteen people tested, four hair samples showed traces of ten different pesticides, half of which are considered to be carcinogenic. All three groups of people – those handling chemicals, wine growers that didn’t actually handle them and industry workers living close by – registered positive for traces of pesticides in hair samples. Of the 35 active ingredients tested for, 22 were found in samples. On average 6.6 substances were found on the hair of people working in the wine industry compared with just 0.6 for people not involved in growing wine. According to ‘Générations Futures’, France has 780,000 hectares under vine representing just 3.7 percent of total cultivated farm land, but wine growing uses 20 percent of all pesticides by weight.
The agro-chemical companies have been quick to point out that detecting traces of pesticides does not imply that they pose a threat to users and that all the agro-chemicals currently used in Europe are only cleared for use when they have been shown to be harmless to users. However, increasingly growers’ organisations are trying to raise awareness of the need for good practice when handling chemicals: after spraying, the field should not be returned to for 12 hours, tractors should be fitted with cabins and users should ensure they change out of the overalls they use to spray vines with.