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Pesticide rebels in court

by Leo Frühschütz (comments: 0)

Two men at a desk discussing documents
Karl Bär and Alexander Schiebel © Jörg Farys

In Bozen in South Tyrol a criminal case against the agrarian expert Karl Bär, Munich Environmental Institute, and Alexander Schiebel, author of the book and film "Das Wunder von Mals" begins this week. For more than five years they have been supporting the activists of the South Tyrolean Mals in their efforts to develop a pesticide-free community.

Every tenth apple in Europe grows in South Tyrol and is treated with pesticides up to 20 times a year. When the South Tyrolean muncipality of Mals declared itself a pesticide-free community, it made the headlines and at the same time addressed the pesticide contamination in the valleys of South Tyrol. The "Das Wunder von Mals" became an eco-bestseller and the Environmental Institute took the South Tyrolean tourism advertisements for a ride and promoted "Pestizidtirol" (a pun on the German word “Südtirol”).

Charge for defamation

That was too much for the South Tyrolean Provincial Council for Agriculture, Arnold Schuler. In September 2017, he filed criminal charges together with over 1300 farmers. The public prosecutor's office in Bolzano filed a lawsuit for defamation, and so the first trial against Bär and Schiebel will take place on September 15.

In October it will be decided whether Jacob Radloff, the managing director of oekom Verlag, will also have to go to court. He has published Schiebels book. The member of the Environmental Institute’s Board is to be accused too. If they are defeated in the criminal case, the affected persons are threatened not only by fines, but also by possible claims for damages from the co-claimant South Tyrolean farmers.

Silence critics

At a press conference in Bolzano, the defendants viewed the charges and accusations as an attack on freedom of opinion. "As it turns out, South Tyrol not only has a pesticide problem, but also a democracy problem", Karl Bär told the press. "The complaints and lawsuits against us lack any factual basis and have only one goal: to silence critics of the use of pesticides in South Tyrol that are harmful to health and the environment.”

Telling the truth is not prohibited in Italy, said Nicola Canestrini, attorney for the two defendants, and explained his strategy for the trial: "We will prove in the trial that pesticides are applied in excess in South Tyrol and that they are dangerous for humans, animals and the environment.

He wants to call more than 30 experts as witnesses. With this, the defendants want to achieve what the politician Schuler and the fruit growers wanted to prevent: A broad public discussion in South Tyrol about the massive use of pesticides in fruit growing.

Update September 15, 2020: Action allegedly withdrawn

According to a press release by Oekom Verlag, District Administrator Schuler has now apparently withdrawn the charges. However, the court has not yet received official confirmation of the withdrawal. Also all 1600 charges of the joint plaintiffs must be withdrawn and the trial must be terminated by the court. Today's hearing (Sept 15) against Karl Baer (Umweltinstitut Munich) will take place anyway.

More information about the court case at Oekom Publishing House and Environmental Insitute Munich.


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