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Daily News Blog

11
Feb

France Elevates Effort to Reduce Pesticide Use by 50%, but Delays Deadline

(Beyond Pesticides, February 11, 2015) In 2008, France announced it would voluntarily cut pesticide use by 50 percent by 2018, and emerged as the European leader in  reducing pesticide dependency. With its plan faltering, the European Union’s (EU) biggest agricultural producer and pesticide user has announced the expansion of  a network of pioneer farms experimenting with alternative techniques and mandated reductions in pesticide sales as it  delays its target reduction until 2025.

logofrenchcultureThe French government has pushed back to 2025 the timeline for halving pesticide use and added an intermediate target of a 25 percent fall by 2020, Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said. The  2018 target was slated as voluntary, but pesticide use has actually increased, in part due to poor weather, according to French officials. As the EU’s top agricultural producer, France is trying to become less dependent on pesticides, which are known to pose various health and environmental risks.

The targets for pesticide reduction remain mostly non-binding on farmers, but Minister Le Foll said his revamped plan would encourage a change in practices by expanding their focus on  alternative techniques. The minister notes that farmers need training  in best practices to replace the massive use of pesticides with more targeted treatments and biological ways to control pests. In the new revamped plan, the government will also add a binding target on pesticide suppliers to reduce their volumes by 20 percent over five years, encouraging them to shift toward selling farmers services to reduce chemical use. Companies will face penalties if they fail to meet the target under a certificate scheme to be developed.

According to Minister Le Foll, 2,000 farms across France have already seen pesticide use fall 12 percent in 2013, even though a 9 percent rise in total use in France was seen that year. Pesticide usage can be cut both through technology that allows farmers to apply crop treatments more precisely, and through biological control that replaces chemicals with natural organisms. However, as expected, representatives of crop farmers argue that tightening restrictions on pesticide use have left them with few viable options for containing crop pests and diseases.

France, like the EU, has sought to become less dependent on pesticides. In 2013, the EU became the first region in the world to ban certain neonicotinoid pesticides that have been linked to global bee decline. France banned the use of the neonicotinoid imidacloprid on corn and sunflowers in 1999, and rejected an application for clothianidin registration in 2008. Similarly, the EU enacted a measure to set limits for chemicals, including pesticides and heavy metals, in lakes, rivers and coastal waters that may endanger the survival of ecosystems and, via the food chain, human health. According to the measure, EU member states will have until 2018 to meet these water standards. States will have to reduce pollution from “priority substances,” cease or phase out emissions, discharges and losses of “priority hazardous substances” in order to achieve good surface water chemical status and to be in compliance with the objectives set by the water quality standards. Previous steps have been taken by the EU to reduce pesticide pollution that include limitations on aerial spraying, the use of buffer zones around agricultural lands and restrictions on the use of pesticides of high concern. More recently, France has been at the forefront of efforts to restrict the cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) crops.

Pesticides are linked to a growing number of human health diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, various types of cancer, and learning and behavioral impairments, such as ADHD and even autism. In one 2012 study, pesticides were found to be linked to a 30 percent decline in sperm counts of French men over the last two decades. Pesticides also contaminate waterways, impact non-target and beneficial organisms, and persist in the environment for years. These chemicals have also been shown to reduce ecosystem biodiversity. A report by Pierre Mineau, PhD. finds that the major contributor to the decline in farmland and grassland birds is pesticide use. This report finds that the best predictor of bird declines is the lethal risk from insecticide use modeled from pesticide impact studies. In 2012, one study reported that widely used herbicides adversely impact non-target invertebrate organisms including endangered species

Along with human and environmental impacts, the French have other pesticide-related concerns. An examination of 300 French wines found that 90 per cent contained traces of the chemicals most commonly used to treat vines. Thirty-three chemicals found in fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides showed up in wines, and every wine showed some detectable trace of chemicals. (The study can be found here in French.) The French wine industry’s notorious use of high levels of pesticides, including fungicides, continues to put workers and the environment at risk.

For more information on the hazards of pesticides and human health, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database. These hazards associated are unnecessary, and therefore unacceptable, given the viability of organic agricultural practices that are integral to a growing $35 billion  market. See the  organic program page. Beyond Pesticides has many resources, including the ManageSafe database to help avoid and manage  unwanted insects without the use of synthetic chemicals. These techniques include exclusion, sanitation and maintenance practices, as well as mechanical and least-toxic controls.

Source: Reuters

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

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