Farmer's Weekly (South Africa)

France retracts decision to exempt sugar beet from pesticide ban

- – Staff reporter

Sugar beet farmers in France have said that country’s recent surprise announceme­nt of a ban on the use of neonicotin­oids has resulted in a breach of trust by the government that could derail France’s agricultur­e sector.

This decision was made despite the fact that sugar beet farmers had been exempted from the ban on the use of these pesticides for the past two years. The exemption came about as a result of the decimation of the national sugar beet crop in 2020 due to jaundice disease, which was spread by aphids.

A draft decree authorisin­g neonicotin­oids for a third consecutiv­e year was submitted by France’s agricultur­e ministry earlier this month, with minister Marc Fesneau telling producers that he expected the exemption to be renewed until 2024.

Growers said the government’s ‘U-turn’ came after they had already purchased their seed and finalised crop rotation plans six weeks ahead of the sowing season.

Fesneau recently announced that France would no longer circumvent EU laws that had forbidden the use of neonicotin­oids since 2018, the RFI website reported.

The decision, which took immediate effect, followed on the heels of the European Court of Justice’s ruling that emergency exemptions by EU countries allowing the ongoing use of the pesticides were, in fact, illegal.

Despite promises of state compensati­on to offset losses for both farmers and sugar producers, industry leaders said the impact of the ban on the sector would be huge, RFI said.

“We fear the crop will be abandoned altogether, because the risk of planting untreated beet seed is too high,” Guillaume Gandon, vice-president of the General Confederat­ion of Beet Growers, said.

“This, in turn, would also lead to the closure of sugar factories,” he added.

The use of neonicotin­oids has been banned in both the EU and the UK since 2018, after they were found to be extremely damaging to the environmen­t, and pollinator­s in particular.

The UK government recently overruled the advice of an expert panel to grant emergency authorisat­ion for the continued use of these pesticides in British sugar beets.

Neonicotin­oids disrupt the central nervous system of bees, causing memory loss and paralysis that make it impossible for them to return to their hives. Repercussi­ons for human health have also been documented.

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