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  • May 7, 2016
  • Glyphosate Use in the Mosel Wine Region

  • by Lars Carlberg

herbicides_herrenbergIn April, the European Parliament advised that the herbicide glyphosate "should only be approved for another seven years, rather than the 15 proposed by the EU executive, and should not be used by the general public."

Environmentalists want to ban glyphosate, best known in products such as Monsanto's Roundup and used widely with genetically modified crops because it can cause cancer. But EU and UN scientists disagree on whether there's a link. Last November, the European Food Safety Authority said that glyphosate was unlikely to cause cancer, whereas the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans."

The Glyphosate Task Force, which represents the industry, said that glyphosate is "a key tool for the control of weeds and the protection of crop yields."

In the Mosel wine region, which includes the Saar and Ruwer, many growers still use glyphosate in their vineyards, despite the concerns that it might cause cancer. Though there are more and more who avoid spraying it and are farming with organic or biodynamic methods. (See Thorsten Melsheimer "Organic Spraying in the Mosel Valley" for more details.)

At this time of year, it is easier to recognize those who have sprayed herbicides in their vineyards, even if they have cover crops. Certain areas of the Mosel Valley, including some of the most famous sections, are sprayed with glyphosate. In extreme cases, there is no grass or weeds growing in the vineyards.

In the photo above, which I took yesterday afternoon, you can see on the right a vineyard parcel that recently has been sprayed with glyphosate. Some producers only spray between the vines of each row, not between the rows. The one on the left is from Erich Weber of Hofgut Falkenstein, who has never sprayed any of his vineyards with chemical herbicides. He often takes over old-vine plots that were extensively treated with herbicides by the previous owner. These vineyards take years to recover, such as the one that now has weeds on the photo.

Unlike Clemens Busch, Knebel, Immich-Batterieberg, or Weiser-Künstler, Hofgut Falkensten doesn't have to combat weeds in steep terraced vineyards. But we are still hoeing by hand the young-vine parcels (which need extra care), and Erich Weber regularly uses a weed eater for all of his vineyards. Egon Müller doesn't use herbicides either. The same can't be said for other famous wine estates.

At issue is: Why producers continue to spray glyphosate, especially those who have good prices for their wines and whose vineyards can be worked by tractor? A grower can plow, mow, mulch, or trim instead. It's a little disingenuous to talk about working close to nature or claiming to have natural herbs, but then spraying glyphosate. ♦

  • Below is the latest news from the Wall Street Journal:

    The future of weedkiller glyphosate, the active ingredient of Monsanto Co.’s Roundup, in the European Union market remains unclear, after a proposal to temporarily extend its sales authorization failed to garner the necessary majority on Monday.

    Glyphosate’s EU sales license expires at the end of the month. Reauthorizing the widely used weedkiller has run into opposition from several governments amid conflicting scientific assessments on whether it causes cancer.

    The unclear outcome of Monday’s vote—in which the vast majority of the EU’s 28 member states backed an extension but failed to meet the necessary population threshold—leaves the final decision in the hands of the European Commission.

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