A study by the European Pesticide Action Network (PAN) found 100% of conventional wines contained pesticides, with one bottle containing ten different types. In all, 24 different contaminants were found, including five classified as being carcinogenic, mutagenic, reprotoxic or endocrine disrupting by the European Union.

“The presence of pesticides in European wines is a growing problem,” said Elliott Cannell of PAN Europe. “Many grape farmers are abandoning traditional methods of pest control in favour of using hazardous synthetic pesticides. This trend has a direct impact on the quality of European wines. In two thirds of cases the pesticide residues identified in this study relate to chemicals only recently adopted into mainstream grape production in the EU.”

Forty bottles of wine (representing wineries from France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Portugal, South Africa, Australia and Chile) were sent to commercial laboratories for testing. 34 of the samples were from conventional wineries and 6 were organic. Together, the 34 bottles of conventional wine contained 148 pesticide residues. All 34 bottles contained at least one pesticide, with the average being 4. The highest number of residues found in a single bottle was 10.

Of the 6 organic bottles, 5 contained no detectable residues. One sample contained a low concentration of pyrimethanil, a possible carcinogen. According to the report, “the presence of pesticide residues in organic wines is rare. Small organic wine producers located in areas of intensive conventional grape production may suffer occasional contamination from neighboring plots.”

In a response to the report, the European Crop Protection Association called the use of pesticides in producing wine grapes “essential and safe.” The EPCA highlighted the fact that the pesticides detected are all authorized for use in the EU, and the residues were found in such minute quantities, “equivalent to one drop of water in an Olympic sized swimming pool,” they are not even remotely close to any level of concern.

The Organic Wine Journal contacted Elliot Cannell in London for further comments on the report and the response by the EPCA.

What surprised you most in your findings?

I was surprised that it was 100% of conventional wines that had pesticide residues. When they tested other fruits and vegetables in the EU it was 50% by comparison.

Anything you expected that wasn’t found?

Five bottles of the organic wine were perfect. Only one bottle had one residue. Since (according to the FIBL study) this was most likely caused by chemicals outside the organic vineyard, I think it shows that even organic farming is endangered by conventional methods.

What is the most important action that needs to be taken now?

On the table right now is a proposal in the EU to eliminate exposure to the 23 worst pesticides. That’s about 5% of those that are allowed to be used currently. It has widespread support, but we’re not celebrating until it’s nailed down into law.

The ECPA says that pesticides are “essential” to winemaking in Europe.

They are the industry lobbyists for pesticides. What is essential is to have a pest management strategy. Otherwise you’re just feeding bugs. Within that, there are different ways to combat the problem. The industry always claims if you ban a small number of pesticides it will be the end of global agriculture.

What about the claim that there are “no recorded instances of health threats”?

There’s a diversity of opinion. You will find scientists who will stake their entire reputation that everything is completely safe, and scientists who say the exact opposite. They found 349 different pesticides in the EU food chain. And 5% of fruits and vegetables tested have 5 or more different pesticide residues. Some of the most common residues found are the most hazardous. I think that’s widespread contamination. I would love to see anyone document that long-term exposure to these chemicals is safe.

They also allege you didn’t test for copper and sulfur, which is used in organic viniculture.

That’s without foundation. We didn’t publish a list of everything we tested for, we only published what we found.

Are pesticides needed to combat climate changes?

As the global ecosystem becomes more and more imbalanced, the last we want to do is crank up the poisons we put into the environment. When someone is sick you want to give them extra care, not make them worse. The idea that we need more poisons in our land and water to help is absurd.

Read the PAN Europe Report and Press Release.

Read the EPCA Response.