Pesticide residues are discovered on an organic herb farm, the Kräuterschlössel (“Castle of Herbs”), in Goldrain, a village in the 30 km down the valley from Mals. The Gluderer family reaches out to regional government officials and farmer organizations, receiving little more than promises to research and discuss the issues.
The Umweltschutzgruppe Vinschgau (USGV), the “Environmental Protection Group of the Vinschgau,” a collection of various environmental and organic farming organizations set up a series of meetings with regional politicians and fruit growers associations to try and find common agreements for fruit, livestock, and organic farmers to work together and counter increasing problems with pesticide drift.
Organic dairy farmer Günther Wallnöfer fears pesticide contamination of his hay crop from new apple orchards established next to his hayfields, and he sends grass samples throughout the summer to an independent lab for testing. The lab results confirm his concerns: pesticide residues were detected in almost every sample submitted throughout the summer. Günther’s organic certifier, Bioland, informs him that he must immediately remove all of his hay crop from his farm or lose the organic certification he had maintained since 2001.
A new advocacy group called Adam & Epfl springs up, organically. Using the local dialect word for apple, “Epfl,” Adam & Epfl sounds much like Adam and Eve, and the allusion to how the temptation of apples can lead to a loss of paradise is effectively communicated with various historical renditions of Adam, Eve, and Apple. The group initiates a series of information sessions and public discussions on the future development of agriculture in Mals and the surrounding region of the Upper Vinschgau Valley.
“Action Day” by Adam & Epfl in Mals, promoting health, a secure existence, diversity, and a local economy.
In an information session sponsored by USGV, Bioland (an organic dairy cooperative), and the Association for Alternative Agriculture (BAA), German toxicologist Irene Witte interprets the 2010 hay sample analyses from Mals: “Overall, this feed belongs in the trash can.”
The local magazine vissidarte brings the challenges of pesticide-dependent fruit production in Mals to its pages.
The local agricultural school and a new consortium of heritage grain growers present their findings on the testing of old and new rye varieties in an effort to reestablish the valley’s reputation as “the Bread Basket of the Tirol.”
Adam and Epfl, USGV, BAA, and and others organize a site inspection of the proposed experimental orchards, protesting the establishment of yet another orchard in Mals, arguing that the dangers of drift in the windy valley are already well substantiated.
Organic dairy farmer Günther Wallnöfer meets with South Tirolean Governor Durnwalder to discuss his dilemma and possible solutions. The governor indicates that the province will establish experimental orchards to test drift factors in the Mals township.
Opponents pen an open letter to Mayor Ulrich Veith, asking him to protect their health by refusing the new experimental orchards.
The Südtiroler Bauernbund (SBB), the South Tirolean farmers’ association, publicly states the need for the research areas.
The mayor and the town council make a key change in the Mals municipal code: Successful referendums are now binding. Chapter 4, Article 40 Point 5: reads, “The affirmation of a referendum serves as a decision that the municipal council or the municipal committee should again take up and reconsider the issue on a broad basis.”
The Laimburg agricultural school establishes not one but two experimental orchards, not only to test for drift but also to determine what varieties will fruit varieties will best grow in Mals.
The South Tirolean provincial government begins to develop new pesticide buffer rules and minimum buffers—ensuring at least a three meter buffer. One local farmer notes, “It’s laughable. I need three meters just to turn my tractor around–residues in my hay meadows and tilled fields continue to appear.”
A group of 47 citizens and 25 persons who submitted their power of attorney to the group met in the Mals library to create a new Advocacy Committee for the banning of pesticides in Mals. A diverse group in ages and professional backgrounds, they discussed a possible referendum supporting a ban on pesticide use in the town and elected Johannes Fragner-Unterpertinger, the town pharmacist, as the official spokesperson for the Advocacy Committee.
USVG hires a research firm to poll Mals residents about their views on the future of Mals. The poll finds that approximately 80% of Mals citizens consider the issue of encroaching fruit production in the township to be a critical issue.
A court order in the nearby Italian province of Trentino overturns a previous court decision between the Trentino farmers association and the township of Malosco. Malosco forbids the two most toxic classes categories of pesticides (“T” and “T+”) and pushes forward enhanced buffer zones in the area, providing a legal precedent for Mals to follow.
A judge rules that “The legal effects of the outcome of the referendum for the municipality shall be governed by the provisions of the Statute.” This legal precedent clears the way for a referendum banning pesticides to be introduced in Mals.
A headline in the Swiss newspaper Zeitung Südostschweiz sends shock waves through the South Tirol: “Pesticides are spoiling the Vinschgau as a vacation region.” However, the South Tirolean governor, Luis Durnwalder responds, “I find these news reports simply hogwash.”
Dr. Hermann Kruse, toxicologist at the University of Kiel, gives a presentation sponsored by USGV in Mals on “Pesticides in Fruit Production: How Dangerous Are They Really?”
On April 22nd, Earth Day, Johannes Unterpertinger submits to the town government a request from 47 of the Advocacy Committee members to establish a “people’s vote on the ban of pesticides in the town of Mals.”
The self-proclaimed cheeky activists, Adam and Epfl, launch a guerilla arts campaign, Paradies Obervinschgau (“Upper Vinschgau Paradise”). Residents in Mals awaken in the morning to painted snakes appearing on wooden signs, cloth banners, and even the pavement. Handcrafted serpents appeared in orchards, on the leftover WWII bunkers that dot the valley, and even over the border in neighboring Switzerland. Costumed serpents and temptresses paraded the streets, offering enticing artisan treats from the valley at restaurants and farms.
Municipal authorities announce that the first submission of a request for a referendum is declined due to several errors made at the municipal level.
Two concerned mothers, Beatrice Raas & Martina Hellrigl, discuss the pesticide issue for the first time in Beatrice’s salon. They decide the pesticide issue is not getting the attention it deserves in the media or from provincial politicians and regulators so they organize a series of identical letters to the editor in a local news magazine, all with a request entitled, “BITTE!” (PLEASE!). More than sixty of them begin to appear in a local newspaper, always with the same request to the mayor of Mals—that he care for the health of the township’s citizens and advance their concerns regarding the health of the local landscape and its citizens.
The South Tirolean farmers association (SBB) has a series of public forums on safety of pesticides, including a lecture on food safety standards by Hermine Reich, representative of the EU Food Safety Authority (EFSA). She holds fast to the argument that “within the set limits, there are no health dangers for consumers.”
At the elementary school in Tartsch, one of the villages in the Mals township, grass samples are tested: nine different substances that, according to the toxicologists, should not be allowed on school grounds were detected.
Local officials hold a meeting at the agricultural school on “Reputation Management as the New Challenge for the Apple Industry in the South Tirol”.
“Hollawint” is officially born! Stemming from the galvanizing efforts of Martina and Beatrice, a group of woman calling themselves “Hollawint,” a dialect word meaning “Stop right there!,” launch a media campaign featuring a website, a Facebook page, and flyers.
Hollawint organizes a stealth advocacy campaign, encouraging allies to turn bed sheets into banners with stenciled slogans supporting a ptesticide-free future. At daybreak on the 31st of July, the people of Mals awoke to 250 banners hanging from fences, windows, barns, and balconies – with slogans such as “A healthy homeland for people, plants, and animals” and “Use and protect the landscape… for us and our guests.”
“Manifesto of Doctors and Pharmacists,” initiated by pediatrician Dr. Elisabeth Viertler and pharmacist Johannes Fragner-Unterpertinger is released. 51 medical doctors, pharmacists, dentists, veterinarians, and biologists from the Upper Vinschgau signed the “Manifesto to Protect the Health and Sustainable Future of Soil, Water, and Air,” calling for alternative cultivation practices and the prohibition of synthetic pesticides.
A second request for a referendum is requested at a “public breakfast.”
Hollawint organizes a vigil for a healthy landscape on the Tartscher Bichl, a prominent hill in the Mals township that is not only a famous landmark but also a prehistoric cultic site.
“Cultural Landscape Days” are sponsored by several environmental organizations and the township of Mals. Composer Gerd Hermann Ortler plays “Changing Landscapes” and the forester Laurin Mayer calls Mals a “Gallic village.”
Under the cover of darkness, the women of Hollawint make life-sized puppets out of white pesticide suits stuffed with hay in order and strategically place them around the public market in the town square with signs explaining the dangers of pesticides.
Two concerned citizens from Mals, Koen Hertoge and Friederich Haring, co-found the advocacy organization PAN-Italia (new national chapter of the Pesticide Action Network), to be based in Bologna.
The South Tirolean Farmers Association (SBB) organizes a presentation, “The Organic Region of the Upper Vinschgau: A Path for the Future?” in an effort to counter the momentum of the pesticide-free movement in Mals.
On December 5th, Johannes Unterpertinger is given 20 minutes to explain and defend the request for a referendum to the town’s legal commission. After deliberation, the legal commission approves the request to collect signatures supporting such a binding public referendum, beginning in February.
Hans Rudolf Herren — a world-renowned Swiss agricultural researcher, winner of the Right Livelihood Award (the Alternative Nobel Prize), and president of the Biovision Foundation — writes a key letter of support to the promoters of the referendum.
Raimund Prugger, a fruit grower, succeeds Andrea Tappeiner as head of the Vinschgau division of the South Tirolean farmers association (SBB)—a move that many supporters of a pesticide-free Mals see as a positive move in their favor.
Arnold Schuler – a fruit grower, legislative representative, and former president of the association of municipalities – becomes the provincial head of South Tirolean agriculture.
Proponents of the Mals Referendum to control pesticide use are given 90 days to collect at least 289 signatures of registered voters in favor of putting forth the referendum for a public vote.
Hollawint invites provincial government leaders to Mals to meet with USGV, the Association of Alternative Agriculture (BAA), Bioland, Adam and Epfl, beekeepers, and PAN-Italia. Only one of them, Arnold Schuler, accepts. One Hollawint supporter makes a request of him: “Mr. Schuler, please help us, so that later we don’t have to go the barricades.”
Instead of the required 289, proponents of the Mals Referendum collect and submit more that 800 signatures of supporters for a public referendum, with more than 400 of them from registered voters in Mals. After verifying the veracity of the signatures, the mayor announces a date for the referendum to take place. The town also creates a forum for citizens to post arguments in support of and against the referendum. Various officials nonetheless soon try to forestall any possible vote by various bureaucratic measures.
The South Tirolean government’s prestigious “Cultura Socialis” prize, awarded to a single organization that advances an important public cause, goes to the Mals initiative, Adam and Epfl.
Allies of the South Tirolean Farmers Association (SBB) and the fruit industry launch a media campaign called Baeuerlichezukunft Mals or “A Farmer’s Future,” directed against the referendum.
A legislative proposal is put forward to require the regular testing of all school grounds in the South Tirol for pesticide residues, to be followed by a report of the results and any recommended actions needed to protect the public from potential health hazards. The proposal is defeated, 17 to 12, with 2 abstentions.
Hollawint and other organizations sponsor lectures and discussions on “The Freedom of the Farmer,” focused on the rights of farmers to use pesticides when they impact others through pesticide drift.
Activists sponsor a second annual Paradies Obervinschgau (Upper Vinschgau Paradise) food and ecosystem tour, with a serpentine path through the villages of Mals that featured samplings of organic food and beverages for hikers, bikers, and tourists.
The regional Ilse-Waldthaler Prize for Civil Courage is awarded to the Advocacy Committee for a Pesticide-Free Mals and its spokesperson, Johannes Fragner-Unterpertinger.
As part of a postcard campaign, Rosenrot & Weizenschrot and the photographer Maria Gapp capture Mals citizens looking out hopefully over their valley, with the caption, “Monoculture is un-culture. Culture requires a landscape with a future… Life is valuable.”
Patrick Uccelli, a wine producer in Salurn, an area dominated by intensive fruit production, pens a thoughtful editorial in the provincial newspaper, concluding with a twist on John F. Kennedy’s famous line and pronouncing, “Ich bin ein Malser!”
The referendum is slated to take place in June. In Bozen, the home of the South Tirolean government, several officials refuse to release the required voter list because they deem the referendum inadmissible. The mayor, Ulrich Veith, counters that they must release it, since the municipal commission officially adopted it. At that point, the officials discover an error on the form and inform the mayor that the updated request for the voter list must be prepared 45 days before the vote. The referendum vote is then rescheduled for August 22-September 5.
One month before the referendum is set to begin, regional officials announce that they will work on new guidelines for the application of pesticides, establishing new buffer distances and regulations. Activists counter that buffer zones of several meters offer little security when it is well established that the drift from pesticides can reach more than one kilometer. Agricultural commissioner Schuler, in his oversight of agricultural regulations, proposes to impose fines between 1000 and 10,000 Euros for such offenses. However, by October 2014, fines have dwindled to a mere 250 Euros for any general offenses.
Now only weeks before the referendum, approximately 150 citizens, organized through the South Tirolean Farmers Association (SBB) “A Farmer’s Future” initiative, submit a request that the December 2013 decision allowing the public referendum should be invalidated.
As the date for the referendum nears, a collection of groups supporting the referendum organize a public information session on the upcoming vote, with active participation and critical discussion. While Schuler attends, the representative of “A Farmer’s Future” does not take part in the village discussion.
The Federation of the Greens (Federazione dei Verdi) and several other political parties make their support of the referendum known to the media in advance of the vote.
On the first day of voting, hand-painted wooden sunflowers with a prominent JA! (YES!) appear throughout the township, and the same bright yellow motif is painted on village streets, while live sunflower blossoms float in town fountains and water troughs. Citizens of Mals can vote at any point during the polling period by direct vote, absentee ballot, or by dropping an official ballot in a secured 24 hour ballot box.
Hollawint pens a letter to Schuler and three other government officials directly involved in the debate: “We wish for everything that the tourist brochures have long promised: highly valued, healthy, and diverse foods that are grown in healthy soil and embedded in a landscape in which people, animals, and plants all have the possibility of a healthy life. We request that you publicly give us positive support in public and act accordingly.” They received two responses.
When polling closes on September 5th at noon, the citizens of Mals wait anxiously for the results, uncertain of how many people actually voted “Ja!” or “Yes” in support of a pesticide-free future for their town. To delight of most Malsers and the astonishment of the rest of the South Tirol, the referendum passes with a margin of 75%, with 69% of registered voters participating! Press releases from PAN went out to 200 media outlets in Europe, and the Mals news was reported in publications around the continent, including Stern, Repubblica, TAZ, Dagbladet Information, Schweiz am Sonntag, etc. Suddenly, Mals is in the international spotlight, and invitations to attend congresses and gatherings worldwide flooded the town. The town statutes must be amended to reflect the outcome of the referendum within six months.
The “Miracle of Milan” is a famous Italian film by the director Vittorio de Sica. Made during the 1950’s, it chronicles a tight-knit community that protects itself against ruthles corporate interestes. “Il miracolo di Malles! “The Miracle of Malles!” (Malles is the Italian name for “Mals”) became the jubilant yell from the podium at the 2014 Annual Congress of the Societas Europaea Lepidopterologica – a meeting of scientists specializing in butterflies and moths – when they heard that the “pesticide-free referendum had passed, offering new hope for endangered lepidoteran species. They will decide to have their biannual conference in Mals in 2016.
Mals wins the coveted European Village Renewal Prize, spreading its fame even further and making it clear that the town might be an outlier in the South Tirol but was a leader in Europe.
A letter of support arrives from conservationist and (yet another) winner of the Right Livelihood Award, Vandana Shiva—making it clear that the news from Mals was spreading around the world and capturing the attention of international leaders in organic agriculture and food justice.
In the town council, the first effort to change the town statutes to reflect the referendum’s call for a “Pesticide-Free Mals” fails due to the lack of a supportive 2/3 majority on the town council, despite the clear majority of support by the voters. By law, a commissioner is to be appointed by the town to implement the binding referendum in the case of a default by the town council, but no such action is taken.
Malser and PAN-Italia Co-chair Koen Hertoge presents the outcome of the referendum to representatives of the European Union in Brussels and participates in the debate “Towards sustainable agriculture.”
Defendants arguing against the referendum appear before the provincial court in Bolzen in an effort to nullify the results.
A second effort to change the town statutes fails, and the effort is put on ice until May 2015, when there are new town council elections.
Elections usher in new members to the town council and give Mayor Ulrich Veith an overwhelming reelection victory. He receives 72% of the vote, the highest percentage win of any mayor in the South Tirol in that election cycle. Newly-elected members make it clear that they will support the binding referendum.
Mayor Veith, Koen Hertoge, and others meet with renowned legal expert Ludwig Krämer of Client Earth in Brussels to determine the legal prerogatives of a town to become pesticide-free.
After two failed votes due to uncertainties about the legalities involved, on July 16th, the Mals town council votes 14 to 4 (3 abstentions and 1 no vote) to support an amendment to become pesticide-free through the ban on all synthetic pesticides used in the European Union (EU).
An article appears in the prominent Swiss newspaper, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ): “A Village Fights Against Agrochemicals” (“Ein Dorf kämpft gegen die Agrochemie”), putting increased political pressure on South Tirolean media and politicians to recognize the significance of the Mals referendum.
Attorneys for the town of Mals develop draft ordinances for an elimination of synthetic pesticide use in Mals.
An internal poll of the South Tirolean Farmers Association (SBB) reveals an unexpected result: 2/3 of the farmers association believe in future importance of organic agriculture.
World-renowned entymologist and winner of the alternative Nobel prize (the “Right Livelihood Award”) Hans Rudolf Herren gives a public lecture in Mals to a packed audience of more than 500 people.
Mals achieved an international milestone when Mayor Veith presented the town council’s initial regulations to advance Mals’ pesticide-free ambitions and summarized them in three categories: 1. All synthetic pesticides in the two most toxic classes (T+ and T) of pesticides are forbidden. 2. For the application of all other pesticides, a fifty-meter buffer is required. Due to the small agricultural parcel sizes in Mals, this buffer requirement is, in effect, a ban. The town will conduct analyses for pesticide drift, and any documented violations will result in the banning of those synthetic substances. 3. The town will advance organic agriculture, and it will begin by purchasing organic foods in its schools and providing financial support for organic production and farmers transitioning to organic. With unanimous approval (12-0), the town council of Mals decided to chart a new path that would protect their deep agricultural heritage and their children’s future, despite continued pressures and attacks from lobbyists and government officials.
The Mals initiative is presented in Brussels to the Environmental Minister of the EU.
In response to the lawsuit brought against the referendum by 140 Malsers, a provincial court declares the pesticide-free referendum unacceptable due to the role of the Advocacy Committee. However, the pesticide-free ordinances are considered separate and therefore stand.
42 Mals citizens file a lawsuit against the new pesticide ordinances.
The USGV takes samples to analyze for potential pesticide residues in eight sensitive zones, including local schools. Analysis results of the pesticide residue tests are shared with the South Tirolean media.
Portions of the forthcoming film, “Das Wunder von Mals” (“The Miracle of Mals”) by Austrian writer/director Alexander Schiebel are shared on the Internet for the first time.
Koen Hertoge presents the Mals story during the Monsanto Tribunal, an exploratory legal trial following International Court of Justice protocols by several ICJ justices. The crime: Ecocide. The verdict, delivered several months later: Guilty, as charged.
PAN-Italia and other environmental groups begin crowd-funding for a pesticide analysis program of 60+ sensitive areas in the South Tirol.
The Umweltinstitut München (Environmental Institute of Munich) calls on its members to support the Malsers in their pesticide-free initiative and launches a controversial campaign that culminates in an advertisement on an electronic billboard in a prominent subway station in Munich. The ad suggests to potential German tourists that many locations in the South Tirol are filled with pesticides and should be avoided, creating a furor in government and tourism offices in the South Tirol. The institute then sponsors a bus tour to Mals where participants march with some Mals activists across the Mals Heath and into town with decorative prayer flags streaming from several prominent locations in the town.
The governing body of the European Pesticide Action Network, PAN-Europe, holds its Annual General Assembly in Mals, attracting further international attention to the heroic efforts of the citizens of Mals and the heavy pesticide use of the apple monoculture in the South Tirol.
“Das Wunder von Mals” (“The Miracle of Mals”) is published in German by Austrian writer Alexander Schiebel.
Orchardist Ägidius Wellenzohn, one of the leading proponents of the pesticide-free initiative in Mals, finds his apple harvest ruined and his pesticide-free orchard of thirty-years poisoned after someone sprays his trees with what test results reveal to be glyphosate. The community rallies with a crowd-funding campaign to support him and his family in the loss of that year’s harvest and the incident’s impact on his pesticide-free certifications in the next few years.
The Dachverband für Natur und Umweltschutz in Südtirol (“Organization for Nature and Environmental Protection”) releases a study of pesticide residues on 71 playgrounds across the South Tirol that includes disturbing levels of multiple residues at a number of sites. Public officials rush to defend governmental oversight of public health while some farmers call foul play amid a media frenzy.
South Tirolean Agricultural Minister Arnold Schuler announces that his family will convert almost ½ of their conventionally-managed apple orchard to organic management due to the influence of his son and his farm manager.
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