I recently discovered some courageous appeals for sanity in public policy made by a French vintner living in southeast Spain. Benoît de Coster started a Youtube channel a few months ago because he had had enough. He couldn’t stay silent while he watched governments in Europe making what he believed to be enormously consequential mistakes. He may be just another lone voice in the cacophony of millions of voices that have things they need to say about the extraordinary emergency we are living through, but I found his perspective to be unlike any others I had encountered. The stories he tells below of grapevines, fungi, horses and arsenic offer new insights into the panicdemic we have lived through for the past six months.
by Benoît de Coster, April 13, 2020
Translated by Dennis Riches
Hello. With this video I would like to address the governments of European states and especially the leaders of the south of Europe.
Let me introduce myself. My name is Benoît de Coster. I’m 58 years old. I’m a father of four. I am an agricultural engineer, graduate of the University of Louvain. I have a year of specialization in food chemistry, and a year of training in oenology at the University Bordeaux.
I take care of a vineyard here [Alicante, Spain] and I never lose sight of my goal: to produce a healthy and delicious wine. I say this because in the management of a crisis governments must manage it not only according to scientific information but according to defined goals, and the goals are to pursue what is best for the majority of the population. Today in this coronavirus crisis three things dominate:
(1) Money, which once again shows its worst side because when cheap solutions appear, they are refuted even while there are people dying. It’s really horrible.
(2) Science. Science today has become the new religion. I love science. I’m passionate about science. I will never stop reading science books. Science is information, but scientists must not be the new inquisitors. This is not normal. It can’t work like this.
(3) And then there’s the media. Media have played an appalling role because they have spread fear instead of supporting people. It’s a horrible thing.
I made a video a few days ago in which I explained the nature of the virus and a different perspective of it through my understanding of life. I had a very amazing reaction which came to me from the Caribbean. I wondered why someone had contacted me from there. Was there a particular outbreak of coronavirus in the Caribbean? No. This person wrote to me, “You know, we had hurricane Dorian last year, and we understood that nature is always the stronger. It will always assert itself. I actually think that when there is a hurricane, we understand what nature is. Scientists had been able to predict everything. They could even tell us hour by hour the magnitude of the hurricane, but they could not prevent the deaths that occurred, and we understood the extreme limits of science in the face of the forces of nature. God knows there are a lot of challenges right now, but nature is always the stronger.”
By some I was criticized for talking about what I don’t know, so now I’m going to talk about what I do know. I’m going to talk about viruses in the vineyard. I’ve been working for thirty-five years in vineyards, so I think I have a certain experience. Viruses are found in all vineyards, and scientists have looked at the issue. We didn’t ever think about confinement, obviously. A vineyard is a bit difficult to confine because it is confined already. However, curiously, in spite of being confined by definition, the world’s vineyards are all contaminated. Think about that. Vineyards that are 200 or 300 km apart have the same virus. So isolating the potential patient is not the issue.
Here is how we treated the virus problem, and it makes for an interesting comparison with how we reacted to the coronavirus. We turned to the scientists. I don’t denigrate all scientists, but in this case the experts said, “To avoid viruses we will produce clones resistant to the virus.” So what happens when you make clones that are resistant to a few viruses? Well, new viruses appear all the time. When your clones are attacked by the virus against which they are resistant, they resist, but when your vineyard of clones is attacked by a new virus, the whole vineyard is decimated. So we vintners understood one thing: when you have genetic diversity in your vineyard, you have immunity.
There is only one essential thing in this crisis—immunity. When your vines are vigorous and healthy, they are resistant to viruses. Some vines die, exactly as in the crisis we are currently experiencing. It’s inevitable. Of course, we all regret it, but it’s inescapable, and so we see today that happy and healthy vines resist illness.
When I say “happy” people will say, “Ah, another crackpot mystic.” If you want to think so, alright, but you should know that all the great vineyards in the world, and the most expensive wines in the world, are made by “crackpot mystics.” That’s because we have learned the difference between a vineyard worked by horses and a vineyard worked by tractors. No one knows why, but the vineyards are healthier when they are worked by horses. So Chateau Latour is plowed by horses now, as is Chateau Margaux in Romanée-Conti. All the greatest vineyards of the world no longer want tractors. They want horses because the vines are better, and they resist disease better. It seems crazy. One can speculate about the possible reasons, but we have our feet in the soil. You can see the effect. There is no scientific explanation of the effect horses have on vineyards, but obviously something about the co-existence of life forces is very important. So I’ll tell you what you need to understand. A vineyard thrives for one reason only: because it has immunity.
Today there is one country in Europe that understood this, which is handling this crisis in an extraordinary way. It’s Sweden. I have a boundless admiration for Sweden. Ten days ago, the world’s leading experts told Sweden to do confinement because in the next three days there would be a disaster. There was a petition signed by two thousand scientists warning that the Sweden was going to experience an unprecedented tragedy. This morning, I looked at the numbers again: 12 dead in Sweden but 400, 500, and 600 in Spain, Italy and France.
So you have to open your eyes. Confinement kills! Confinement kills by the enormous stress it causes in individuals and especially in the old. There is no denying this evidence when we isolate old people who need only love and attention, but now they have been condemned. Their residences have become only places to die. These are places where people are being executed. It’s unacceptable.
I spoke to a friend earlier who explained to me that his grandmother has just passed away and he has not been able to go and see her. We are stealing the most precious moments of life. It’s unacceptable, completely inhumane. The two most beautiful things in life are birth and death. Holding your mother’s hand when she departs is the greatest memory you can have in your life, and for the mother who holds her children’s hand when she dies, she departs in peace.
What is happening now is appalling. It’s incomprehensible. It’s a mind-numbing decision. And these elderly people are dying in fear. Italy was the first country to have carried out the confinement, but still people are dying by the hundreds. But for the last three days Sweden has seen a sharp drop in mortality. Twelve died today [2020/04/13]. Ten died yesterday. Thirty-three died the day before yesterday. The epidemic is slowing down, and scientists are in a panic because Sweden has shown that the only thing that matters is immunity.
Let’s look further ahead. Sweden today is going to have more immunity than all the other countries when they end their confinement. A large part of the population in those countries will have no immunity. Furthermore, the other part is going to have so many stress-related pathologies that hospitals are going to be over-crowded, and that will be on top of an economic catastrophe.
Governments, leaders, come back to your senses. We cannot manage this crisis this way. Sweden shows it and proves it. Many other countries prove it.
Masks can be distributed. I worked in a laboratory and I think it’s an illusion that masks make us safe. And we never put masks on the vines to solve problems in the vineyard. Confinement for the vineyard? You have to open your eyes. There are only two things that matter: care for patients, if you have a cure, and immunity. Immunity will arise when people are given joy, when we stop creating unhappiness. This misery leads to a sudden drop in immunity.
Now at this point I’ve been talking for ten minutes, so few people are still watching this video, but for those who will continue, I’m going to give a very concrete example of immunity, not from science, but from the vineyard. I tell you because this is what I know.
Of the many diseases in vineyards there are these two common ones: eutypiosis and esca. We see that the vines die as if they had apoplexy, a kind of infarction. All the leaves fall, and the vine is dead, and so scientists looked into it. Experts found a fungus in the vine: Eutypa lata. In the case of esca, they found other strains of fungus. We saw that these fungi were attacking the base of the vines, so we said we would eliminate these fungi. We were going to wage war on fungi. Great. So how did we fight this war? We found a product that had been used for a long time, sodium arsenite. We tried it. It worked. The problem? There was arsenic in the wine. “No it’s not possible!” they said. “Arsenic the wine?” but there was arsenic in the wine. If you drink pre-2003 wines, you’ll drink arsenic. A little or lot? That depends.
So sodium arsenite was banned, I assure you, but here we see where science takes us. We understand that. But now I’m going to tell you the surprising end of this story. Two people came along who hadn’t done any formal study, but they loved vineyards. They loved nature, and they tried to understand it. They are Simonit & Sirch, who became today’s leading specialists in the management of vineyards, with no formal training.
They looked at the vines. They noticed while pruning that the curvature of branches as they grew taller was causing by micro-fissures in the vessels, and they thought this might be preventing proper circulation of the sap. So they thought they should prune differently and manage the vines differently, and that’s what they did, and it worked.
The scientists had confused cause and consequence, as is very often the case, and in fact, the fungal infection was the result of the poor circulation of sap. I don’t criticize all scientists. Far from it. There are brilliant people among them, and I will not stop reading their books, but I say let’s keep our common sense in this crisis. Confinement is a barbaric, medieval measure which shows a complete misunderstanding of the problem. Thinking it’s going to save us from over-crowded hospitals is totally crazy. Just look at what’s happening Italy, Spain and France, and in Sweden which is quite the opposite. So I think we are at an impasse.
About the media, I will tell you another story. We talked before about the bubonic plague. We talked about the Spanish flu, but I didn’t realize that in 1969—the height of the golden sixties—the whole world was having a great time—there was the Hong Kong influenza. The Hong Kong flu took 25,000 lives in France in December 1969. It took 6,500 more in January 1970. The media didn’t talk about it. It was party time. It was the era of the wild, golden sixties. The economy was better than ever, and yet in the hospitals there were appalling testimonies. Corpses were piled up in the intensive care units. You can see it was horrific if you read the testimonies of that time, but television did not relay these testimonies. And so, after two or three months, no more epidemic. The economy was great, the best ever in Europe. You might say, “ah, but at the time…” but no. In those days the media’s mission was to sell happiness. The media showed President Georges Pompidou’s visit to Africa. They showed the traditions of African people. They interviewed film directors about their latest works. They invited famous singers and interviewed them. They invited Georges Brassens, a poet who inspired everyone to dream.
These epidemics have always existed and will always exist, so I’m asking you politicians to ask questions. You’re doing confinement now, but what about next time for Covid-20 or Covid-21? Will we do all this again when the economy is flatlining? Make people afraid again to go to the hospital for three months? Let’s be reasonable. In this crisis, let’s try to understand life as it is. What’s happening is madness. It’s completely inhumane.
My son is going to be a father in four weeks, but Spain has just announced that the borders will remain closed until September. So they are telling me I’m not going to be able to go see my granddaughter? It’s monstrous. This decision is monstrous, and it is—whether we want to admit it or not—it is fascism. This is the definition of fascism: a decision is made in a totalitarian way about a common goal. This is the definition of fascism.
Military personnel are prohibiting access to beaches in Spain! This is frightening. And old people die without having their funerals.
I will stop here so that I don’t repeat myself too much, but thank you, those who have been attentive to the end. Above all, I hope that our governments will come to their senses because there is a tragic drama unfolding now. I just lost a close friend who died of a heart attack. In the message he sent to friends on the morning of the day he died, he said he was feeling stressed by the coronavirus. He said so right in the message! His infarction was the result of stress.
This way of doing confinement is suicidal. Let’s open our eyes. Look at Sweden. Think about how to achieve immunity.
Best wishes. Happy Easter, in spite of all that is happening, and be happy. Have fun. Enjoy.
Some might tell me I have a lot of space around me, so it’s easier to be happy here than if you live in a small space. It’s very difficult and I sympathize enormously with people. This is also why I’m speaking out.
Earlier I was told, “Benoît, there are no planes in the sky.” It’s true. That is wonderful. It’s a wonderful time. Birds around my home have never been happier. But it’s not just us. There are families of six children in a 60-square-metre apartment. They can’t get out. People can’t meet each other. Families can’t get together. I heard that the police broke up a family reunion the other day. They told everyone to go back to their homes. Even under occupation we never experienced that.
So wake up, leaders, governments. You can’t do that to your people. It’s unbearable. It’s not fair and it’s not justifiable. It’s counterproductive, and this policy is going to lead to more deaths. It must stop. End the confinement right away. Give masks if people want them because the psychological effect is extraordinary. If people think the mask will protect them, it’s great. Give masks. I won’t wear one. I have faith that I have very good immunity. I know life. Perhaps that means I will die, but then you know what: that will mean my time has come, and that must also be accepted. We must also accept death. Our societies no longer accept death. This is not normal. Death is something that can be beautiful when it’s lived well but at the moment death is very, very badly lived and very poorly perceived.
I will end here. My throat is getting a little dry.
This translation was posted here exactly two months after Mr. de Coster posted his messge in French in a YouTube video. Since then, Sweden has been criticized in the media for making a grave error in its decision to not order a strict confinement. According to the global stastistics tracked by John Hopkins Unversity of Medicine, Sweden’s rate of deaths per 100,000 of population climbed to 47. The number provoked some doubts within Sweden, but the figure is lower than that of some countries that did confinement, but also worse than some other countries that did confinement. One could conclude that confinement is not the key factor in managing the pandemic. Sweden may also have fewer deaths from the economic and social damage caused by confinement policies in other countries, although its economic pain will be determined partially by the economic pain of its trading partners. Furthermore, as Mr. Benoit mentioned, Sweden will achieve herd immunity sooner than countries where people sheltered indoors during the spring of 2020. Final assessments will not be possible until the pandemic is over one or two years from now. At that time, the effect of early herd immunity will be better understood.
As reported by Irish Times on May 14, 2020, “of Sweden’s 3,529 Covid-19 dead so far, 88 per cent were over 70, and about half of the total were in care homes.” This statistic means that almost half of the Swedish fatalities from Covid-19 were due to a government failure to quarantine, protect and care for the elderly, not from a failure to quarantine the general population. The deaths in residences for the elderly were a separate scandal and a terrible negligent or even deliberate mass murder committed by the health authorities, but they were not related to the decision to not quarantine the healthy and low-risk sectors of the population. Some doctors in Sweden are outraged that health authorities put out official notices instructing doctors to move elderly Covid-19 patients to palliative care–an IV drip of morphine leading to quick painless death rather than to simple and effective treatment with IV fluids, antibiotics and oxygen. Some of them would have still died, but many would have survived if given such standard treatment for pneumonia. Elderly patients cannnot easily survive drastic interventions like heart surgery or intubation, but IV fluids, antibiotics and oxygen are not in that category. The widespread mistreatment of the elderly in many countries in recent months raises questions about whether there was premeditation at high levels.
Another crucial point to keep in mind is that the website maintained by John Hopkins University should make readers conclude that, essentially, the data on the mortality of Covid-19 is completely unreliable. It states that there are wide differences in the number of people tested, in demographics, in health care delivery, and in “other factors, many of which remain unknown.”