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Poor yields Swiss winegrowers blame fungicide for damage

Vines allegedly affected by the Moon Privilege fungicide (RTS)

(swissinfo.ch)

The wine grape harvests of 900 growers in Switzerland have been damaged after using the Moon Privilege fungicide produced by the German chemical firm Bayer, a Swiss TV report claims. Bayer says it is investigating but rejects legal responsibility at present.

According to a Swiss public television (RTS) documentary broadcast on September 13, around 2,000 hectares of crops out of a total of 15,000 have been affected after being treated with the Moon Privilege fungicide. A total of 900 wine growers are reportedly affected.

The RTS “Mise au Point” documentary showed plants with deformed leaves and dried, shrivelled grapes, and reported lower yields this year.

Several Swiss winegrowers have reportedly written to Bayer to demand compensation, which could amount to up to CHF90 million ($92 million), according to figures from the Swiss Winegrowers’ Federation.

"I am asking Bayer to cover at least my losses, otherwise it will be difficult for me to finish 2015,” grower Stéphane Sandoz told RTS. He says he has lost around a quarter of his crop this year. Others have reported crop damages up to 80%.

Investigating

In a recent statement on the company’s website, Germany's Bayer advised wine grape growers not to use its Moon Privilege fungicide until its CropScience arm has investigated whether there is a connection between the product's use and reported crop damage.

Referring to "atypical symptoms" in vines where Moon Privilege - known as Luna Privilege in some markets - had been deployed in 2014, a statement on the company's website said: "As long as the cause of this change in the grape vines remains unexplained, we recommend for precautionary reasons not to use Luna Privilege for wine growing.”

The statement also said that Bayer regrets the situation and is doing everything necessary to discover the cause.

In a written statement, Bayer responded to the RTS documentary’s findings saying it was investigating and taking the situation seriously: "we believe there is a strong probability of a link between the use of the product and the anomalies reported”. But it refuses “to acknowledge any legal responsibility” given the current state of affairs.

For its part, the Federal Office for Agriculture suspended authorisation for Moon Privilege  in July as a precautionary measure and to avoid further damage in 2016. This follows observations "establishing a link between damage to the vines and use of the product”, it said.

Last year Bayer said it expected more than €250 million ($279 million) in annual peak sales from its Luna group of products, which were launched in 2012 and are used for fruit and vegetable crops.

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