A recent study by a French laboratory shows that nine out of every ten French wines contain pesticide and fungicide chemicals.
France produces nearly one-fifth of the wine in the world, more than any other single county. Wanting to expand and maintain its reputation as being one of the premier wine producing counties in terms of quality, Frenchman Pascal Chatonnet, a wine enthusiast and vineyard operator, decided to find a way to assist French winemakers in modernizing their trade.
Chatonnet opened Excell Lab in 1992 with a goal of developing new quality control measures for wine manufacturers, as well as testing and analysis procedures to ensure the quality and purity of wine. Initially focusing on how to identity and eliminate issues associated with cork wine stoppers, Excell later developed ways to analyze the effects pesticides used in wooden storage barrels have on the wine aging process.
According to SmartPlanet, Excell has also become an industry leader in identifying air pollutants that indirectly affect the taste of wine. Employing these various techniques, Excell recently tested 2009 and 2010 vintage wines from Bordeaux, the Rhone, and the wider Aquitaine region, a total of more than 300 wines.
Testing for 50 different molecules that can be found in various vine treatments, including pesticides and fungicides, some of the wines contained as many as 9 different 'anti-rot' fungicides. Trace amounts of pesticides were also found. Chatonnet told Decanter.com:
"Even though the individual molecules were below threshold levels of toxicity, there is a worrying lack of research into the accumulation effect, and how the molecules interact with each other. It is possible that the presence of several molecules combined is more harmful than a higher level of a single molecule."
Although wine producing grapes only account for five percent of France's overall agricultural land use, a fifth of the pesticides used in the country are sprayed on wine vineyards according to a Telegraph report. The report also states that as of 2011, at least 40 deaths have been linked to illnesses from pesticides used in wine vineyards.
According to the International Business Times, brain cancer and other illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease and dementia are also seen at a higher rate in vineyard workers than in the general population.
Although Chatonnet points out that vineyard workers, not consumers, are at higher risk for health issues associated with the chemicals, he also explains that the European Union rules have set a limit of pesticide residues on grapes to 250 molecules, but there have been no limits set for wine. He continues by saying:
"Some molecules will break down during the process of fermentation, and we need more research into what they synthesise into, and more traceability in place."