Pesticides blamed for sperm decline

Rural France

Study finds greatest fall in male fertility in mainly rural Aquitaine and Midi Pyrenees regions

PESTICIDES used on agricultural land may be the main cause of declining sperm counts among men in France, a study has suggested.

The study, which first published its findings in 2012 and has now been refined, found that sperm counts across the whole of France had fallen 30% in 16 years, but that those living in the mainly rural Aquitaine and Midi-Pyrenees regions of southwest France have been most affected. Male fertility in Burgundy had also declined rapidly.

All three regions rely heavily on agriculture for their economies. Aquitaine has the greatest concentration of agricultural jobs in France, while more farms are found in the Midi Pyrenees than in any other region in the country.

The news comes a day after the use of pesticides were blamed for variations in the quality of water in France, with rural areas again the most affected.

The authors of this latest study, led by Dr Joëlle Le Moal at the The Health Watch Institute and the National Institute of Health and Medical Research suggested a correlation between declining sperm count and higher exposure to pesticides in an agriculture-based economy.

The wine industry, they noted, is “where the most pesticides are used in proportion to the agricultural area”.

They were able to discount alcohol and cigarettes as possible causes, because the most affected areas are not those where the consumption of tobacco and alcohol are highest, and said genetic factors could not explain the rapid rate of decline.

It is not all bad news, however. The downward trend in sperm counts has been reversed among men in Brittany, Franche-Comté and Pays de la Loire. The greatest improvements have been seen in Auvergne and Languedoc-Roussillon.

The original study, which was published in 2012, collected data from 26,600 men from 126 towns and cities across France who took part in medically assisted procreation programmes between 1989 and 2005. This latest report comes after the initial programme was refined to compare trends across 21 regions.

"It's very important to monitor the quality of sperm at the international level now that we have data about its degradation in France," said Dr Le Moal.

Photo:Sara Goldsmith

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