Use of pesticides has ‘exploded’ in France in past decade

A new, but controversial, study reported a 25% rise - although detractors claim the study left out a year's data

9 February 2021
By Joanna York

French farmers have increased pesticide use by 25% in the past decade, an inquiry led by environmental organisation la Fondation Nicolas Hulot (FNH) has found.

This increase has occurred despite national goals to reduce pesticide usage by 50% by 2025, they claimed.

The inquiry, the results of which were released on February 8, investigated the reasons for this increase, including public and private funding for food producers.

But politicians have cast doubt on the findings.

Jean-Baptiste Moreau, MP for Creuse - the most popular department for Britons buying homes in France last year -  said the study had based its findings on inaccurate data. He says they only studied the years 2009 to 2018.

"Your study does not take into account the data from 2019," Mr Moreau said. He said the reality for 2009-2019 was actually a drop in pesticide use.

Funding increases do not target reduction

The study found that public funding received by producers had risen by €23.2 billion, and private funding by €19.5 billion in 10 years.

But only 11% of this funding was dedicated to helping reduce the use of pesticides, and as little as 1% had proven to be effective in doing so. 

The FNH reported that 9% of French farms, including largescale cereal producers and vineyards, were responsible for 55% of pesticide use in the past 10 years. These producers were also found to be operating under the highest levels of debt – up to 60% higher than other farmers - for numerous reasons.

Firstly, because pesticide products are expensive, but also because their large properties require the use of agricultural machinery that is frequently updated and often paid for by bank loans.

 

Foundation says political change needed 

The report said blame for the failure to meet reduction goals was “too often placed on farmers”, when a large share of responsibility lies with the government and the entire food production system. 

Nicholas Hulot, founder of the FNH and a former ecology minister, said public funding - which comes from national and European sources - must offer more support for farmers to make the achievement of reducing the use of pesticides a realistic goal.

He said in a press conference: “We are dealing with profound dysfunction in our democracy, which is neither without danger, nor without effects. 

“This highlights one thing: Why, in public agricultural politics, is there such a significant gap between the promises of the Republic and the results?”

He said that public funding for farmers should be redirected in order to help them achieve goals of reducing pesticides, adding: “Beyond [state] objectives is a central question: Is each euro contributing to the public good? We are very far from that, according to this study.”

He added that the wider conversation needed to move away from “agriculture-bashing and ecology-bashing”. He said: “The reality is more complex. A small part of the profession attracts a large portion of financial support. We must act to share funds in a more equal way that is in line with ecological objectives.”

The government plan Écophyto II+ dedicates €71 million annually to reducing pesticide use through measures such as supporting research and helping farmers transition away from them. 

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