Sunday, September 24, 2017

Wine Institute's Sustainability Program Cautions Against Widely Used Toxics - Including Abamectin and Paraquat - But Lets Growers Use Them If They Need To

My ears perked up when I heard that the Wine Institute's California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance had issued its first restrictions on what toxic chemicals sustainable winegrowers can and can't use in the vineyards. That's the good news, and then there's some bad news.

The Alliance has banned the use of some chemicals outright (the Red List) and cautioned against using a second group of chemicals (the Yellow List), but permits growers to use them if necessary.

Becoming certified under the CSWA program helps wineries in many ways. One is to meet sustainability requirements for major retailers like Walmart and others. Certification also gives certified sustainable wineries bragging points - and labeling if they like - to use in marketing themselves as green.


reviewed the list of banned chemicals on the Red List. Among 28 chemicals listed, 13 were not used by any wine grape growers, according to California Department of Pesticide Regulation's 2015 summary report. Apparently this was by design, according to the CSWA. Of the chemicals banned, 46% on the Red List are not currently being used on California wine grapes.

If you want to perform your own analysis, visit the California Dept. of Pesticide Use and look at the chemicals used on wine grapes.

I also added up all of the acreage affected by the remaining 15 chemicals, which totaled 13,938 acres in 2015. That acreage amounts to 2% of all wine grape vines in the state. That means that 98% of growers in the state are not using these banned chemicals.


In reviewing the Yellow List, things get a lot more interesting, because the list could have a big impact by decreasing toxic chemicals.

But, somewhat surprisingly, growers don't have to stop using the Yellow List chemicals. They may continue to use them if they justify their use.

Of the 10 chemicals on the Yellow list, eight are used on fewer than 5% of the state's vines, but two are more widely used - the insecticide abamectin, a miticide, and the herbicide paraquat dichloride.

(I generated the maps below using the Agricultural Pesticide Mapping Tool which was created by the California Department of Environmental Health Tracking Program [CEHTP] using the state PUR data. The organization is funded by the CDC. )

Abamectin is used on 188,900 acres, or a third of California's 560,000 acres of wine grape vineyards. It is classified as a "Bad Actor" and as acutely toxic. It is a developmental and reproductive toxin and a suspected endocrine disruptor. It is also classified as a possible groundwater contaminant.

Paraquat dichloride is used on 100,400 acres, or 18% of California wine grape vines. Acutely toxic, it is classified as a "Bad Actor" and is a suspected endocrine disruptor.  It has been banned in Europe based on its extreme toxicity - it's often used in farmer suicides - as well as its links to lung cancer and Parkinson's.

In a 2015 story on farm pesticides used close to schools, the Sacramento Bee reported on the use of paraquat and other chemicals and the health threats they represent, quoting data from the California Dept. of Public Health.

The third most used chemical, chlorpyrifos, was slated to be banned nationwide, until the Trump administration reversed this decision.

Chlorpyrifos was used on 25,861 acres - or 5% - of wine grape vineyards.

The deadly insecticide is know to affect child development and the nervous system.


It should be noted that many chemicals designated as "chemicals of concern" are not on the Wine Institute's Red or Yellow Lists. These include carcinogens (Roundup and glyphosate, for instance, now classified by the state of California as carcinogens), developmental or reproductive toxins, neurotoxins, bird and bee toxins and more.


Among the banned chemicals is Mancozeb, which is, oddly, used more in Sonoma than any other county in California.

Mancozeb is classified as a "Bad Actor," a carcinogen, a developmental and reproductive toxin and a suspected endocrine disruptor.

A New York Times article, published 26 years ago, wrote, "In 1987, the National Academy of Sciences identified the chemicals - mancozeb, maneb and metiram - as among the most potent carcinogens used in agriculture."


How will the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance enforce the restrictions? Will the group actually revoke certification for wineries using the Yellow List chemicals?

These are not legally binding standards, but a voluntary program run by an industry group, so it will be interesting to see the extent to which the industry will actually police itself in instances like this, and if growers will change rather than be booted out of the program.

It could also be the case that this move is an attempt to gently wean the growers using the worst toxics off of them. If the CSWA is successful, the Pesticide Use Report should reflect the impact the restrictions have.

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