Reader question: I saw a label on some apples I bought, saying the fruit was écoresponsable – what does that mean? Is it another way of saying organic?
This label has been used for some time in the apple and pear industry but has also now been extended to peaches, nectarines and apricots. It is recognised by the French Agriculture Ministry.
The full name of the label is vergers écoresponsables – environmentally-responsible orchards – and around 1,300 apple producers, about half of all French growers, have the label.
It refers to fruit grown by farmers using “eco-friendly” techniques and is a halfway house between being fully organic and using the full range of conventional farming techniques, including chemical pesticides and herbicides.
It was launched in 2009, mainly in response to public concerns about pesticide use.
According to the apple industry body Association Nationale Pommes Poires (Anpp), it does not ban the use of artificial chemicals completely but aims to use organic methods as much as possible, with a “targeted” use of chemicals only if “necessary”.
Producers with the label sign a charter promising to encourage biodiversity in the orchard, favour organic methods, pick by hand when the apples are ripe, guarantee traceability of their produce, and accept annual checks on their practices by independent experts.
For example, growers will aim to weed the ground with tools rather than by using a herbicide and will avoid controversial products such as glyphosate weedkiller, which is being phased out though some products are still used in agriculture.
Most also, for example, use a “sexual confusion” method against a kind of worm – actually the larva of a moth – that can burrow into apples.
Instead of using a chemical spray, they hang female pheromone diffusers in the trees. These attract male moths but, as they cannot locate females, the moths do not reproduce.
To favour biodiversity, both for insect and bird life, écoresponsable growers use methods such as leaving strips of land in the orchard to grow wild, having plenty of hedges and installing bird boxes.
Most labelled apple producers also form partnerships with beekeepers to have hives among the trees.