France - wine
© AlamyThe French agriculture ministry is prosecuting Emmanuel Giboulot for failing to apply insecticide.
Emmanuel Giboulot to appear before judge in Dijon for refusing to treat vines against insect that spreads devastating disease

A French organic winemaker could face a prison sentence and a hefty fine after refusing to spray his vines with pesticide.

Emmanuel Giboulot will appear before a judge in the city of Dijon on Monday after defying an official order to treat his vineyard against an insect suspected of transmitting a devastating plant disease.

The cicadelle, the leafhopper Scaphoideus titanus, is believed to be responsible for the spread of the grapevine disease flavescence dorée, which has affected vines in the Côte-d'Or region of Burgundy, where Giboulot produces Côte de Beaune and Hautes Côtes de Nuits wines.

Giboulot claims the pesticide is ineffective and damaging to pollinating insects such as bees, and insists the disease can be fought via more natural means.

The 51-year-old is being prosecuted by a branch of the French agriculture ministry, under article 251-20 of the rural code, for "failing to apply an insecticide treatment to his vineyard" in July last year.

The winemaker faces a six-month prison sentence and a €30,000 (£25,000) fine for refusing to spray his vines.

Officials say they have had to pull up 12 hectares (nearly 30 acres) of vines ravaged by the highly infectious flavescence dorée disease in 2012. They say the disease, which first appeared in the 1950s, threatens more than half the Burgundy region's vineyards and that preventative treatment by pesticide is necessary.

Giboulot disagrees. In November he told the website "I am not irresponsible and I am not trying to be radical. I simply do not believe that systematic treatment, even without any symptoms of the disease, is the solution. I want to show people that there are options, and that we need to think about our own health and that of our customers."

Giboulot added: "My father began converting to organic farming in the 1970s, and we are now fully organic and biodynamic. I don't want to undo decades of work applying a treatment where the effects on the health of the vines and the public are as yet unproven."

The winemaker uses "biodynamic" methods, based on ecological and controversial spiritual approachs. There are thought to be about 450 biodynamic wineproducers globally.

Giboulot argues that even Pyrevert, a pesticide based on an extract from dried chrysanthemum flowers and the one pesticide that organic farmers could use against the cicadelle without losing their label, had undesirable side effects.

"It kills not only the insect but also other fauna that are necessary for the natural balance in a vineyard," Giboulot told Le Monde.

Denis Thiery, a vine specialist at the National Institute for Agronomic Research, also told Le Monde: "Even if Pyrevert is of natural origins it is damaging for the environment. It'sis a neurotoxin that can affect not just insects, but birds, other animals, even the winemakers, depending on the doses used.

"In reality, the efficacy of these treatments against flavescence dorée, whether natural or conventional, is not great. Not all the insects are killed and the epidemic continues to spread quickly. But, like all epidemics, we don't know if the situation would be worse without the treatment."

More than 41,000 supporters of Giboulot have signed a petition calling for the charges against him to be dropped, and dozens are expected to attend a picnic outside the court in Dijon on Monday.

Last June another organic winemaker was prosecuted and convicted for not treating his vines but was spared a prison sentence or fine after finally agreeing to spray against the disease.