In Part 1 of The Truth About Organic Wine Exposed: Organic Wine is Great, I introduced the two warring world views known as “organic” and “conventional” viticulture, and I addressed the argument that organic viticulture allows for toxic substances to be used in grape growing, as long as those substances are naturally occurring. Read it here if you haven’t already, and then let’s continue with:
Argument Against Organic Viticulture #2
2. Sulfur may not be dangerous, but it’s not that great either.
Sulfur has very low impact on human or environmental health. If there is any danger to humans, it is not inherent but caused by over-use or misuse. With proper protection for vineyard workers, and use according to the recommended guidelines, sulfur is about as safe as you can get besides using nothing (which may be a real option to consider).
The gist of the argument, then, is that sulfur is less effective than some synthetic substances that can be sprayed in vineyards, and therefore must be used more often.
This is true. Sulfur, to be effective, must be sprayed approximately once a week during the growing season until the grapes begin to change color (a process known as veraison), and after rains. The most common synthetic alternatives only need to be sprayed on average once every two weeks. That means fifty percent less “stuff” gets sprayed and the vineyard gets fifty percent less tractor traffic with conventional methods, potentially.
A lighter touch, as far as humans touching nature, is almost always a good thing. But would you rather be heavily touched with a feather, or lightly touched with a chainsaw? Personally, I’d take the feather.
Of course sulfur can be over-used and mis-used and improperly used, but so can synthetic chemicals. The attempts to vilify organic viticulture on the basis of sulfur are neglecting a look in the conventional mirror.
Argument Against Organic Viticulture #3
3. Synthetic (conventional) chemicals are targeted and more effective.
Sometimes this is true. Sometimes a synthetic chemical is much more targeted, effective and longer-lasting than any organic option.
It is also true that sometimes that more targeted and effective synthetic chemical, used in conventional viticulture, is an insidiously poisonous, cancer-causing, environmentally-destructive substance as well (see #1 in Part 1 and #4 below).
Take the phomopsis example in Part 1, Argument #1. It is likely that several of the six proscribed synthetic chemicals are much more effective for preventing or treating phomopsis than the one organically allowed substance (sulfur). But did you read those hazard statements?
If you have a headache, a bullet is a much more targeted and effective treatment than aspirin too.
For the final nail in the conventional coffin, keeping with the morbid metaphors, let’s talk about the conventional chemical that has been allowed for over half a century, considered to be a virtual magic wand of effective and targeted treatments, and has become the most used pesticide on the planet.
Argument Against Organic Viticulture #4
4. Glyphosate (Roundup) isn’t that bad.
Most of the people who once made this argument stopped doing so recently, as more and more research is being done that isn’t funded by Bayer/Monsanto (the producers of Roundup, which is the most common product containing glyphosate), and as more of the cover-up is being exposed. But out here on the interwebs there are still articles, like this one, that purport the relative safety of glyphosate (often in a straw-man argument against copper sulfate, which has known high toxicity).
In a short few years, these arguments will be seen as ridiculously quaint relics, at best, from a time when “people just didn’t know better,” like old advertisements showing a doctor’s favorite brand of cigarettes, and the health benefits of smoking while pregnant. At worst these arguments, and articles, may be seen as part of the cover-up.
For a much fuller treatment of glyphosate use in viticulture, check out my article Glyphosate Isn’t Bad… It’s Horrendous. Or watch this video if you are prepared to go deep on the science:
Glyphosate was promoted as a targeted-strike herbicide, like a GPS guided missile against weeds. It is now used at a rate of 300 million tons per year. So even if it was a guided missile, that many missiles cover a pretty massive target, and of course result in a lot of collateral damage.
Glyphosate was designed to kill life. So we shouldn’t be surprised, when used as extensively as it has, that it does that job in a devastating, systemic way that pervades nearly our entire food system and has deep, lasting effects on our global environment and the health of all creature (ourselves included) who live in it.
That isn’t to say that if we eliminate glyphosate (which we should), conventional viticulture will be just fine. Glyphosate should be a lesson to us about the extreme dangers of using synthetic chemicals, or any chemicals, without long-term, unbiased, controlled analysis. The fact that conventional viticulture allowed glyphosate to happen is one of the strongest arguments against it and in favor of organic viticulture. A horrible substance like glyphosate has never been, and would never be allowed to be used in organic viticulture.
But conventional viticulture didn’t just allow for the use of glyphosate. It allowed, and continues to allow for a dizzying number of pretty hideous substances, like 2,4‐D (2,4‐dichlorophenoxoyacetic acid), captan, and acifluorfen for example.
When I said organic viticulture was the way to save the world, this is what I was talking about.
But there are still more arguments against organic viticulture, and more reasons to love it. To read them, go to Part 3 of The Truth About Organic Wine Exposed: Organic Wine is Great.