The Munich Institute for the Environment, theUmweltinstitut, in 2017 posted a poster in the city's underground station to bring to everyone's knowledge the massive use of pesticides in the apple orchards (1) of Val Venosta. The councilor for agriculture of South Tyrol denounced the Institute, but the lawsuit turned against him and allowed environmentalists to get hold of the registers on the use of pesticides by farms.
The judicial affair
The Independent Institute for the Environment of Munich in 2017 posted a satirical manifesto 'Pesticide Tyrol' to make the population aware of the massive use of pesticides in the apple crops of South Tyrol.
The action was not well accepted by the provincial councilor for agriculture of South Tyrol, Arnold Schuler, who criminally denounced the Institute for slander against agriculture and counterfeiting of the brand - the South Tyrolean logo used is satirical in the poster on tourist billboards.
Data on pesticides sprayed in Val Venosta
The will to intimidation and to hide the truth on the part of the complainants was clear and environmentalists immediately found support from associations and citizens from all over Europe against what has been called a SLAPP, Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation. (2) Under strong public pressure, Schuler and the 1375 companies that had supported the case, withdrew the complaints one after the other until the trial was concluded in January 2022. (3)
But the damage was already done. The Bolzano prosecutor's office seized the companies' spraying booklets as evidence for the trial. The environmental institute thus obtained information from about 681 companies out of 1375. Although it is mandatory to keep these records, they are not regularly monitored or published.
Not even a day without pesticides
From the information collected the activists reconstructed that from March to September 2017 not a day went by in Val Venosta without pesticides being sprayed in the orchards. Almost a quarter of the active ingredients contained in used plant protection products are considered particularly harmful. Penconazole, fluazinam and phosmet were used, classified as 'suspected to be harmful to reproduction', and bupirimate and captan, considered instead 'probably carcinogenic'.
Glyphosate could not be missing. (4) Although its dangerousness is known, it is still the most widely used active ingredient in herbicides. 90% of the companies evaluated used it to combat weeds. Herbicides alone accounted for 10% of all applications made by farmers despite weed control not being needed in apple orchards. In fact, there are less impactful mechanized methods to combat herbs. (5)
The so-called effect cocktail'
Up to nine chemicals they were sprayed at the same time. (5) We speak in this case of 'effect cocktail'. Even if the chemical substances are each used within the limits of the law, we still do not know exactly what the effects on human health and the environment are of the accumulation of these substances.
New analysis techniques however, they found alterations in the gut-liver axis in guinea pigs exposed to a mix of pesticides. (6) In a 2021 study, it was seen that the coexistence of multiple pesticides in the soil can compromise its biodiversity. (7)
The difficulty of doing organic farming in Val Venosta
In South Tyrol the orchards follow one another without interruption. They extend for about 18 hectares for a 2021 production of 935 tons of apples. (3) Pesticides are sprayed on the foliage, creating clouds that wander through Val Venosta and even reach the peaks of the mountain: residues have even been found in the glaciers at an altitude of 1.800 metres. (8) Going organic among so many conventional orchards is not easy, as the story of the Gluderer family demonstrates.
Pesticide residues have been found in their organic herbs. (9) When they asked their neighbors to take precautions, they were insulted and threatened, as told by Urban and Annemarie Gluderer - the Italian spokesperson for the European Citizens to save bees and farmers - to the German magazine Süddeutsche Zeitung. To protect their crops and their health, they had to surround their company with two-metre-high plastic sheeting, an expensive solution that denies the view towards the paradise that South Tyrol should be. The solution for the family was to found a company at an altitude of 1.400 metres. (8)
The perfect apple
The massive use of pesticides it is justified by farmers and wholesalers with the fact that large retailers and end customers want a perfect product. Big, shiny, perfect and all the same apples. Many of the pesticides used are not used to protect the plant but to make the apple aesthetically beautiful. 90% of the 681 farms would have used growth regulators in their orchard according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the television station Bayerischer Rundfunk.
Dithianon, bupirimate and captan they have been used to combat apple scab and powdery mildew, two fungal diseases which however do not affect the quality of the apples or human health. (10) Perhaps, even the reg. (EU) 2019/428 on the size and appearance of fruit and vegetables should be revised. Massive use of unnecessary pollutants and loss of quality food would be avoided.
(1) Marta Strinati, Dario Dongo. Apples, grapes, pears. Too many pesticide residues in food. Legambiente report. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 25.12.2020
(2) Martha Strinati. Free only in words, even in France it is censorship. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 12.10.2021
(3) Umweltinstitut München. Wegen Pestizidkritik auf der Anklagebank. https://umweltinstitut.org/ueber-uns/pestizidprozess/
(4) Martha Strinati. Not just glyphosate. 33% of pesticides used in the EU are without risk assessment. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 26.11.2022
(5) Fabian Holzheid. Pestizide im Vinschgauer Apfelanbau. Umweltinstitut München. https://umweltinstitut.org/landwirtschaft/projekt-spritzdaten-aus-dem-vinschgauer-apfelanbau/
(6) Robin Mesnage, Maxime Teixeira, Daniele Mandrioli, Laura Falcioni, Quinten Raymond Ducarmon, Romy Daniëlle Zwittink, Caroline Amiel, Jean-Michel Panoff, Emma Bourne, Emanuel Savage, Charles A Mein, Fiorella Belpoggi, Michael N Antoniou. (2021) Multi-omics phenotyping of the gut-liver axis allows health risk predictability from in vivo subchronic toxicity tests of a low-dose pesticide mixture in rats. Commun Biol 4, 471. https://doi.org/10.1038/s42003-021-01990-w
(7) Fiona HM Tang and Federico Maggi (2021). Pesticide mixtures in soil: a global outlook. Environs. Res. Lit. 16 044051 DOI 10.1088/1748-9326/abe5d6 https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/abe5d6
(8) Von Uwe Ritzer. Der einsame Kampf einer Bauernfamilie. Suddeutsche Zeitung 25.1.2021. https://www.sueddeutsche.de/projekte/artikel/wirtschaft/pestizide-suedtirol-aepfel-e237260/?reduced=true The translated article can be found in Internazionale issue 1502, 10.3.2023
(9) Dario Dongo, The effect derives from pesticides on bees, trees and plants distant from cultivated land. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 21.12.2020
(10) Von Uwe Ritzer, Natalie Sablowski. Apfel-Kosmetik für die Verbraucher. Suddeutsche Zeitung. 25.1.2023. https://www.sueddeutsche.de/projekte/artikel/wirtschaft/pestizide-suedtirol-aepfel-handel-e576423/?reduced=true The translated article can be found in Internazionale issue 1502, 10.3.2023.
Graduated in Law from the University of Bologna, she attended the Master in Food Law at the same University. You participate in the WIISE srl benefit team by dedicating yourself to European and international research and innovation projects.