Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Organic Vineyards and Legal Liability: Case in Point

I was just recently talking to a vineyard manager who works for an organic management company, asking him what the biggest benefit of being organic was, in his opinion. He named a few of the usual reasons - soil health, longevity of the vines, and more - and then added liability to the list.

That was a new one for me.

So it shouldn't have come as a surprise to read this news story, only a few days later. Four vineyard workers were hospitalized July 5 after breathing pesticides in a 21-acre vineyard in Napa, according to the Napa County Sheriff's department, the story reported.

The department reported that the four workers, three of whom were women, had been exposed to three pesticides, including Altacor, commonly used against European grapevine moth.

The location given, the 4000 block of Big Ranch Road, is within a five mile radius of the center of Napa.

Ironically, just a month before the incident, the Napa Valley Register reported this upbeat story about how the county's grand jury released a report praising the Agricultural Commissioner's Office for its work on pesticides.

"In 2009, more than 1.54 million pounds of pesticides were administered across Napa County. Of that figure, 1.47 million pounds were applied to the county’s vineyards.

The 2009 figures represent a significant decline from what was seen in previous years, the report states.
In 1999, pesticide use in the county was just shy of 2.4 million pounds, with more than 90 percent ending up in Napa vineyards.

The pound-per-acre measurement for pesticide use in the county’s vineyards also dipped over the past decade, moving from 73 pounds in 1999 to 34 pounds in 2009.

To explain the drop off in chemical use, the report credits Agricultural Commissioner Dave Whitmer’s efforts, as well as industry trends such as organic and sustainable farming."

While it would be nice to think that organic and sustainable farming was the answer, the truth is likely more complex. Pesticides don't weigh what they used to, so trying to evaluate pesticide use on the basis of weight is probably not very precise in terms of understanding public health impacts.

Only 7% of Napa is farmed organically, so that would not explain the decade-long reduction of more than a third of the pesticide tonnage.

What would would be a closer look at the weight of newer pesticides which are far lighter than their predecessors. According to industry experts, pesticides are more concentrated than they used to be.

One would hope that a responsible expert would be found who could say more about that, before the Napa grand jury starts to celebrate its rare and under-marketed organic vintners who suffer from a near total lack of visibility. (The Napa Valley Vintners doesn't really like to talk about organic, but does promote its own sustainability "program", which hypes what is already the law of the land. In fact, on the Napa Valley Vintners web site, for every winery that has certified organic vineyards, the word organic is never mentioned. The descriptions are all "sustainable.")

Does this story mark a first in crediting them with having an acknowledged, positive impact on public health?

More importantly does anyone know a good attorney I can speak to about workers and pesticide lawsuits ? There must be a history in the wine industry of this happening. And secondly, what happened to these workers? Does anyone know?

And while I applaud the progress made so far in reducing the most toxic pesticides used in the past (DDT, etc.), and the role of the Ag Commissioner in helping to further reduce pesticide use, the current situation of pesticide use in Napa is still very serious.

No comments:

Post a Comment