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West France farms biggest users of controversial weedkiller

An NGO found that the Charente-Maritime and Gironde departments were the biggest buyers of the herbicide glyphosate in 2019, which could be banned in France by 2023

Two departments in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region have been found to be the biggest users of the herbicide glyphosate in France, environmental defence NGO Générations Futures has found.

On March 11 the NGO revealed the winners of its ironic “Glyph’Awards”, meaning the departments in France that have the dubious honour of being the biggest purchasers of glyphosate. The statistics used are for 2019.

Departments in Nouvelle-Aquitaine dominate the top five

The departments topping the list are those that bought the most glyphosate in relation to the amount of available farming land in 2019.

In first place was Charente-Maritime, which at 241,058.78kg, bought over a quarter more of the herbicide than the second-place department Gironde, at 185,351.67kg.

Third place went to Marne (Grand Est), fourth to Charente, and fifth to Lot-et-Garonne (both in Nouvelle-Aquitaine).

François Veillerette, spokesperson for Générations Futures, said it was no surprise that many departments in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region were at the top of the list.

He told news source FranceInfo: “There is a certain consistency in these results - agriculture in the Bordeaux area is very dependent on herbicides.”  

French law targets glyphosate use

Glyphosate, the most-used herbicide in the world, has long been the target of legislation to reduce usage in France.

On January 1 2019, the sale of glyphosate to private individuals was banned in France, but continued to be permitted for professionals. 

The NGO said that this change in the law meant official figures for glyphosate sales were “without doubt, less than the real level of consumption in 2019, as some purchases were made at the end of 2018” in anticipation of the new law.

It said: “Herbicides were stocked for usage in 2019, but technically come under purchases from the previous year, meaning figures from 2018 were inflated and those from 2019 reduced.”

Ban on glyphosate usage planned for 2023

By December 2019, further restrictions had been planned. 

National health and safety body l’Agence française de sécurité sanitaire (Anses) announced the removal of 36 glyphosate-based products (out of a total of 69) from the French market by the end of 2020.

In October 2020, Anses announced six-months of restrictions on usage in vine-growing, tree-growing and cereal farming, in the hope of reducing usage by up to 80% in 2021.

Outside of agriculture, national rail network SNCF also announced plans to stop using glyphosate-based products as weed killers next to its tracks by the end of 2020.

SNCF is France’s biggest user of glyphosate, accounting for 0.4% national usage.

Read more: French firm SNCF to use more natural glyphosate alternative

Glyphosate is currently approved for use in the EU until December 2022, at which point its usage will be reviewed.

Departments also ranked on general herbicide usage

Générations Futures also released a ranking of the departments that bought the most herbicides in general in 2019.

The top five were Gironde, Marne, Loiret (Centre-Val de Loire), Seine-et-Marne (Ile-de-France), and Somme (Hauts de France). 

This alternate ranking shows some notable differences in herbicide usage between departments.

Mr Veillerette said that while Charente-Maritime was the most prolific buyer of glyphosate, the department is not a big consumer of herbicides in general.

Loiret uses rapeseed oil as a natural deterrent against aphids, meaning only 85 tonnes of glyphosate were bought in the department in 2019. 

Nonetheless, it still came third for overall herbicide purchases. 

A map of all departments detailing pesticide herbicides from 2019 is available in French here. 

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