More than half a million people have signed a petition in support of French wine producer Emmanuel Giboulot, who has been fined €1,000 ($1,400) for refusing to treat his vines with pesticides.

Dijon district council instructed all grape growers to spray their land with an insecticide last year in a bid to kill off the leafhopper, which transmits golden flavescence – a virus that can decimate infected vines.

Although the non-chemical Pyrevert insecticide has been cleared for use by organic farmers, it kills not only the leafhopper but also bees and other pollinating insects. Giboulet, whose family has farmed organically since 1970, argues that there are better ways to prevent the spread of the virus, including organic barriers and traps.

‘I have been sentenced for refusing to poison my own land,’ an unrepentant Giboulet told Le Monde after the fine was announced on 24 February.

Originally facing up to six months in prison and a $41,000 fine, Giboulet approached environmental group IPSN (the Institute for the Protection of Natural Health) to raise awareness of his struggle. He gained wide public sympathy, as well as support from a number of environmental and political organizations, including Greenpeace, Attac and the anti-capitalist NPA party.

Giboulet believes that the state wanted to make an example of him for daring to protest: France uses more pesticides than any other European Union country.

Jo Lateu