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France confirms pesticide buffer of up to 20 metres

Dangerous pesticides will legally be required to be spread at least 20 metres away from inhabited homes and buildings from January 1, 2020, the French government has confirmed.

Less dangerous pesticides or crop treatments will require a buffer zone distance of 5-10 metres, depending on the chemicals and the crops. For example, small fruits, fruit trees and vines will need a distance of at least 10 metres. Vegetable drops will require five metres.

The new rules were confirmed in an announcement from the ecology ministry on Friday December 20.

They will apply to all crops sown after January 1, 2020, and from July 1, 2020 for any crop fields already sown before this date - except in the case of pesticides considered to be the most dangerous.

These “most dangerous” pesticides are those considered to be the most toxic, of which the government has drawn up an official list.

The rules will also apply to the use of pesticides in non-farming environments that are accessible to the public.

The government will help producers to manage the new rules, the ministry said, with a budget of €25 million offered to “provide financial support for the purchase of the most effective application tools for phytosanitary products when it comes to controlling the risk of ‘drift’”.

Pesticide controversy

The use of pesticides close to homes and business buildings used by humans has long been disputed in France. As of September this year, more than 60 bans were already in place across the country.

Some mayors have taken steps to impose even wider buffer zones for pesticides in their communes - such as the high-profile case of Daniel Cueff, mayor of the 602-inhabitant commune of Langouët (Ille-et-Villaine, Brittany), who made national headlines when he was summoned to court after implementing a decree to ban pesticides to within 150 metres of buildings.

Farmers were also warned in September that the government plans to outlaw the controversial herbicide glyphosate completely from 2020.

Some herbicides and pesticides have been linked to cases of cancer and other diseases in humans.

This year, President Macron said that he would like to "move towards greater management of pesticide spreading zones" due to "the consequences on public health", and ecology minister Elisabeth Borne said she was working on “a new project on the regulation [of pesticides].”

The idea of a 5-10 metre pesticide distance was first suggested in September, but some critics said this distance would not go far enough to improve health.

Mayor Daniel Cueff has been an outspoken critic of pesticides near buildings (Photo: @LaCroix / La Croix / Twitter)

Mayor Mr Cueff said it was “a ridiculous distance that would protect nothing”.
He said: “[150 metres] is a distance from which you feel the effects of these pesticides much less, and you breathe them in much less. People do not want to breathe in glyphosate, which is often found in the body in very high volumes.

“We hear that if [farmers] adopt a distance of 150 metres, they will not longer be able to grow crops, that rats and boars will come back. But we know that there are techniques to grow without pesticides. There are many solutions, otherwise I would never have made such a decree [in Langouët].”

But at the time, Ms Borne asked ecology groups not to “make a mockery of the debate”, while minister for agriculture Didier Guillaume said that a buffer zone of 150 metres was “consumer madness”.

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