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French mayor’s pesticide ban overturned in court

A French mayor who banned the use of pesticides near buildings in his commune has been forced to overturn the ban by a court in Rennes.

Daniel Cueff, mayor of the 602-inhabitant commune of Langouët (Ille-et-Villaine, Brittany), made headlines this month when he was summoned to court after implementing the ban.

The ban stated that neither pesticides nor herbicides could be used on fields within 150 metres of housing or commercial buildings, within the commune, as a means to “protect” inhabitants.

But local authorities said that his decision was illegal, as mayors do not have authority on such issues, and must defer to national laws.

After the decision, Mr Cueff said he would appeal the decision, but admitted: “Logically, the court cannot disobey the head of State.”

Yet, he defended his position, saying: “[The herbicide] glyphosate is already considered by scientists to be likely carcinogenic, which obliges us to take precautions within the French constitution.

“I believe that because the State was not behaving responsibly, and not protecting the population, it was up to the mayor to respect the French constitution and take circumstantial measures based on the geography and farming methods of his commune."

He has also invited "all mayors" to introduce a similar ban, and said he will continue to fight, with growing support from his inhabitants and environmental campaigners.

Mr Cueff had previously said that urine tests on  locals’ urine - including from children - had revealed glyphosate levels up to 30 times higher than the recommended amount.

After the initial court hearing, Mr Cueff said: “What is the power of a mayor? Can a mayor ignore the health of his inhabitants? Since 2009, a European directive has called on France to take measures to protect its inhabitants from pesticide spray, but nothing has been done.”

But authorities in Rennes said that it was not within a mayor’s power to introduce such a ban.


Reactions to the decision

The case has caught national attention.

President Emmanuel Macron said he "supported the mayor's intentions", but added: "There are laws. The authorities must respect them. I will always been behind authorities that respect the law. The solution is not to take out a ban that goes against the law, but to work to change the law."

Mr Macron said that he would like to "move towards greater management of pesticide spreading zones" due to "the consequences on public health".

Ecology minister Elisabeth Borne said: “I totally share the worries of the mayor of Langouët. I will instigate, within the next few days, a new project on the regulation [of pesticides].”

But Mr Cueff said: “We have been waiting for this for 10 years. Today, many mayors are being asked to act by their inhabitants. People may even go straight to the local authorities. We must move on this.”

The mayor reiterated that he had “not forbidden pesticides, but [only] imposed a distance between fields and buildings”.

Yet, Christian Durlin, environment vice-president of farmers’ union the FNSEA, told news source FranceInfo: “Stopping [farmers] from protecting their crops within 150 metres of buildings means that you will rapidly stop all growth.

“Regulations on the use of phytosanitary products cannot be left to the jurisdiction of mayors; it is under the jurisdiction of national regulation.”

Mr Durlin said he would “welcome a national dialogue to try to find the best way to allow farming and social worries to co-exist”, but said he would reject “unilateral regulation".

Mr Cueff added that around 20 other mayors had taken similar decisions on pesticides, but according to some farmers, the decision was taken “without any discussion [with us]”.

They said: “Mayors are representatives of all citizens, including farmers. The decisions that they take should balance the needs of everyone. This was not true of this decree.”

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