Valérie Murat, daughter of a winemaker and activist was sentenced to a heavy fine for publicly denouncing pesticide residues in Bordeaux wines. The verdict stands, but there will be big waves of outrage.
FRANCE (Bordeaux) The French judiciary has fined a winemaker’s daughter and activist heavily on charges of defamation for publicly denouncing pesticide residues in Bordeaux wines. A court in the southwestern town of Libourne, not far from Bordeaux, on Thursday imposed damages of 125,000 euros on Valérie Murat, spokeswoman for the Alerte aux Toxiques organization. The court thus upheld a complaint filed by the CIVB winegrowers’ association.
The lobbying association is to receive a large part of the money, 100,000 euros, with the remaining 25,000 euros to be paid to five other plaintiffs in the case. Murat and her organization had discovered residues of a number of pesticides in 22 wines with the HVE (la haute valeur environnementale) environmental label in a study in September, including 19 Bordeaux wines. However, the pesticide contamination was within the legal permissible range.
The court therefore ruled in favor of the plaintiff association, which felt it had been unfairly slandered. The “fault” was on the side of the activist Murat and the organization Alerte aux Toxiques, the judges ruled. The presentation of the study results had “caused damage to the Bordeaux wine region”. The plaintiff association also successfully challenged the published study results. The CIVB was “very pleased” with the ruling. Here, it was not the free expression of opinion that had been condemned, but “the lie and nothing else”, CIVB President Bernard Farges told the AFP news agency. “One can argue, one can inform, but one must not distort reality.”
Murat expressed her shock. It is forbidden to criticize and “to reveal and say that in HEV wines there are pesticides that are among the most dangerous of all”, she complained to AFP. She also criticized the horrendous sum she now has to pay. “I am not a rich owner of large vineyards like some who attack me.” She announced she would appeal the verdict.
Murat is the daughter of a winemaker. Her father, James, had died of cancer in 2012, which had been recognized as an occupational disease. He had been exposed for more than 40 years to a pesticide used on grapevines, which was banned in France in 2001. Criminal proceedings are underway in the case. James Murat himself did not have time to file a lawsuit against the chemical industry and the state. His daughter has since taken over. Valérie Murat continues to fight, “because other very harmful pesticides are still being sprayed on the vine, including, for example, CMR and other carcinogenic substances,” Murat says.
Green Party European politician Martin Häusling spoke of an “unforgivable attack on freedom of speech and consumer protection.” It was “bad enough” that the level of residues found in wine was still legal, he explained. But it was a “deliberate consumer deception” when the wine label still had the environmental predicate PDB emblazoned on it, he said. The fact that Murat must pay now for the exposure of this consumer deception “horrendous penalty payments” is “a solid scandal”. Häusling called for a boycott of conventional Bordeaux wines “all over Europe“.
Own goals from Bordeaux
A commentary by Rudolf Knoll
The complaint of the Bordeaux winegrowers’ association may sound logical and justified in the matter. But it can also be seen as an embarrassing own goal. First of all, it is not a sign of sovereignty when the producers’ association shoots cannons at a sparrow in order to silence it. It would have been better to deal with the matter quietly and to talk with the affected vintners (among them also renowned Châteaux, whose wines are traded from 150 euros upwards) about how to reduce the use of pesticides, if it is already not possible to do without the spraying altogether. “Learning from damage” is an appropriate saying.
The occasion could also have been used to promote more organic farming in the Bordelais on a broad front (so far not a significant issue in the area) and to discuss what – as happened – an environmental label is doing on the 22 pesticide drops concerned. This is deliberate consumer deception and actually a case for a court!
Own goal also because about complaint and judgement in many printed and social media very extensively and critically one reported. Behind it, there are several million readers, many of whom might be more critical of the wine from Bordeaux in the future and ask their retailer unpleasant questions, so that he reorganizes his assortment.