Several French mayors have issued anti-pesticide orders out of precaution, putting pressure on the government, which has launched a public consultation on safety distances for the application of plant protection products.
The anti-pesticide orders around common housing areas are being emulated by an increasing number of French local authorities, including Dijon, the Parisian commune Gennevilliers and the small Breton village of Langouët.
Many local authorities have already banned the use of pesticides near residential areas based on the precautionary principle. And on 12 September, five metropolitan areas (Paris, Lille, Nantes, Grenoble and Clermont-Ferrand) broke the deadlock by jointly announcing a ban on the use of pesticides in their territories.
On Tuesday (10 September), it was the president of the Val-de-Marne departmental council who announced that he would join the anti-pesticide movement. He did so by signing an order banning the use of pesticides that contain glyphosate throughout the department.
These announcements were made at a time when the French government launched a public consultation on 7 September on the issue of the minimum distance between homes and areas where spraying pesticides is allowed.
There are currently no global rules governing the application of these chemicals near populated areas.
But for the time being, the government is planning to implement so-called ‘pesticides-free’ zones of only five metres for so-called low crops, cereals, vegetables, and 10 metres for high crops, vines and fruit trees.
These distances, which many consider insufficient, are based on a recent report by the national health and food safety agency (Anses). In an opinion, Anses assessed the risks of exposure of residents near areas where pesticides have been sprayed, but only for distances ranging from two to three, five and ten metres.
For those who support greater distances, this is deplorable.
The pesticides-free zone scheme is set to come into force on 1 January 2020. However, the proposed project has been widely criticised by environmental groups. For example, the French federation of associations for the protection of nature and the environment, France Nature Environment, is proposing a 150-metre security perimeter around homes.
According to France’s main agricultural trade union, FNSEA, such a proposal would deprive French farmers of 15% to 20% of arable land. Such a drastic reduction could force France to import agricultural products from other countries, Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume told Europe 1 on 4 September.
While France remains one of Europe’s leading agricultural producers, it nevertheless imports 20% of its food, as pointed out in a Senate report. And the country’s agricultural production has stagnated for several years.
In this arm-wrestling match, the French population broadly supports the control of pesticides.
According to a survey conducted by the French Institute of public opinion (Ifop) in August, 96% of French people support the anti-pesticide decree issued by the mayor of the small Breton village of Langouët. The mayor, Daniel Cueff, has now become a leading figure in this local mobilisation.
Citizen mobilisation on the issue of pesticides is being organised at a time when the agriculture industry is falling behind the objectives set to reduce pesticide use.
And the government is struggling to make progress on issues that matter to the population. These include banning glyphosate or neonicotinoids, the bee-killing pesticides.
Indeed, the plan to reduce the use of Ecophyto pesticides launched in 2007 after a series of government talks on the environment had no consequences, as pesticide use continued to increase rather than decrease.
The main objective of halving pesticide use in France by 2018 has been postponed to 2025 due to a lack of significant progress.