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French town's glyphosate ban for farmers 'illegal'

But mayor insists she will not withdraw local decree outlawing use of controversial herbicide

A mayoral ban on glyphosate herbicide and neonicotinoid pesticides in a small French town has been deemed illegal by a regional préfecture.

Residents complained to the mayor of Perray-en-Yvelines, a commune of 7,000 inhabitants about an hour from Paris in the the west of Île-de-France, after a farmer used glyphosate on a field bordering their properties.

Residents said they were worried for their health after plants in the field turned red following treatment.

And Mayor Paulette Deschamps, speaking on French radio, vowed to keep the municipal order in place, despite being told it was illegal by the prefect. “I will not withdraw it, it is my duty,” she said.

She said urine tests on 47 volunteers from the village showed they had levels of glyphosate 35 times higher than those authorised in drinking water and so the measure was taken to protect public health.

The director of Île-de-France branch of the FDSEA farmers’ union, the largest in France, Bernard Lérisson told Connexion the municipal bans were illegal and farmers had been told to ignore them.

“The use of glyphosate is entirely legal and it has been for 30 years,” he said.

“And as for banning neonicotinoids, it is also a nonsense because they have been banned for two years by the government,” he said.

Neonicotinoid pesticides are systemic insecticides which enter the plant and kill insects which later land on it. They have been widely blamed in France for problems experienced by bee keepers, where swarms in hives suddenly collapse.

Mr Lérisson said farmers had to comply with strict rules, including having a special licence, machinery, and accurate weather reports on wind conditions before starting any spraying.

“Farmers have their own health to worry about and, of course, do not want to hurt anyone next to their fields,” he said. “That is why they only spray when necessary to ensure they produce the food people put on their table.”

Glyphosate is one of the most widely used weedkillers in the world and some 8,800 tonnes of it were sold in France in 2017.

An attempt by President Macron to ban its use was overturned when MPs in his own party refused to back him after being lobbied by farmers and industry representatives.

Its use has been banned in private and public gardens, sports fields and roads, but the state-owned French railway network is still the largest single user of the chemical, using on its own 0.4% of the 8,800 tonnes bought in 2017 to spray along railway lines.

Garden shops stopped selling glyphosate products, and other “non-bio” chemical pesticides and herbicides, to the public at the start of this year, when the ban on using it in private gardens came into force.

The World Health Organisation labelled glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic” in 2015. It also considers bacon and other charcuterie products as equally potentially dangerous because of their probable links to bowel cancer.

Glyphosate remains legal in the European Union until 2022, when its licence is up for renewal.

A working group of scientists from France, Hungry, The Netherlands and Sweden is working on a report to evaluate its risks, and has been given a deadline of June 2021 to publish its findings. A new decision on glyphosate will then be taken by the EU before the 2022 deadline expires.

President Macron initially said he wanted France to ban the use of glyphosate by 2021, but now says this is not possible and farmers need longer to adapt.
Austria’s lower house of parliament voted to ban the use of glyphosate in 2020, but the measure has still to be approved by the upper house.

Juries in courts in the US have awarded millions of dollars in compensation to people who claim their cancers were caused by glyphosate use.

German company Bayer, which makes the most popular glyphosate product, Roundup, is appealing against the decisions.

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