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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: https://www.humanite.fr/pesticides-...

by Alexandra Chaignon

Pesticides. The vexing subject of glyphosate

Translated Wednesday 1 November 2017, by Jane Swingler

The use of glyphosate is already banned in public spaces in France. For private individuals, this ban will take effect on 1 January 2019.

Yesterday morning, after a number of contradictory announcements, the Prime Minister stated his intention to reduce in stages, but not prohibit, the use of this herbicide by 2022. It is a dispute which highlights a weakening in the government’s position.

This controversial weedkiller provokes heated debate which reaches the very heart of the highest echelons of government. Yesterday morning, just as Christophe Castaner, the government spokesperson, announced a total ban on this product in France by the end of the five-year term, the Prime Minister hastened to play for time. In a press release broadcast shortly afterwards, the government committed itself to “significant progress” on all pesticides, including glyphosate, by 2022 but without specifying a timetable. Matignon, the Prime Minister’s office, requested that the two Ministries concerned (Agriculture and Ecological Transition) present by the end of the year “the outlines of a plan for the phasing out of glyphosate,” based on the findings of EGalim, the public commission on foodstuffs. “The aim is to find alternative products by the end of the five-year term,” clarified Christophe Castaner, thereby aligning himself with the Matignon press release.

The Agricultural Lobby puts Pressure on the Government

“A snap ban, no! A move towards reduction and solutions, provided the solutions are economically and technically as good, we will consider that,” was Christiane Lambert’s immediate reaction. The president of the FNSEA, the largest farmworkers’ union, welcomed this press release which, she said, “goes some way towards relaxing an extremely intransigent position,”… “Today, we can talk about a ban if there are solutions and accompanying measures.”
You could say that the agricultural lobby has put pressure on the government and, from this point there is only one more step, which will be easily overcome! Indeed, these statements were made three days after the farmworkers took action, in response to a call from the very same farmworkers’ union. They demonstrated on Friday on the Champs Elysées, protestings unilateral withdrawal of the product in France.

This row has also broken out a few days before a crucial meeting of the European Commission, which wants to propose a ten-year renewal of glyphosate’s licence (the current one expires at the end of 2017). While France had announced at the end of August that it would vote against this measure, its position no longer appears to be for a swift ban on this substance but rather a ban with conditions. Furthermore, the government indicated that it “will hold its position” and “will confront those in the Commission” (editor’s note: European) who they know for a fact support the re-authorisation of the herbicide “as well as other member states, to agree terms for a sensible transition period for the phasing out of glyphosate.”

This provoked an angry response from environmental groups, such as the non-governmental group Générations Futures. They recalled that, within the framework of the European regulations on pesticides, there is provision for an outright ban on any pesticide product as soon as it is classed as “potentially carcinogenic”, which, according to the International Centre for Cancer Research, is the case with glyphosate. “The existence of alternatives does not change the situation at all! If France maintains this absurd and dangerous stance, we run the risk of being in the same position in five years’ time,” came the reaction from François Veillerette, the group’s spokesperson. “We urge the government not to give way to pressure from the agro-chemical lobby which has a vested interest in keeping this dangerous chemical on the market.”

In addition, these contradictory announcements further highlight the rift between the Ministries of Agriculture and Ecological Transition. On Friday, under the pretext of calming tensions between farmers and environmentalists, Stéphane Travert, Minister for Agriculture, suggested an extension to the license “from five to seven years.” In an interview for the daily newspaper “Ouest France”, which appeared on Saturday, Nicolas Hulot, Minister for Ecological and Solidarity Transition, stated that, in his opinion “justice and history will catch up with us” if nothing is done to remedy the problem surrounding herbicides. “Just because it is complicated, must we continue to pretend this problem doesn’t exist?” he asked and added “Must we continue to put the economic interests of a few people ahead of everyone’s health?”

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