French agencies to check pesticide exposure of residents in wine-growing areas

"Finally a French study that will look at the exposure of local residents to pesticides," said NGO Générations Futures quickly after the announcement, pointing to the numerous studies that already show "increasingly clear" links between pesticide exposure and various diseases. [cornfield/Shutterstock]

France’s food and public health agencies, Anses and Santé Publique France, have announced that they would be launching a study on pesticide exposure among people living in wine-growing areas. The issue is of growing concern in France and the EU. EURACTIV France reports.

“PestiRiv”, launched this Tuesday (19 October) by the National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety (Anses) and Santé publique France, will be the first large-scale study aimed at gaining a better understanding of the exposure to pesticides of people living near wine-growing areas.

This announcement is based on two observations. Not only does “a large part of the rural population live in wine-growing regions”, according to a press release published by the two national organisations, but to date, there is very little data regarding the actual exposure of people living near crops, particularly vineyards, to pesticides and their effects on their health.

The study, which had 3,350 participants living in wine-growing areas as well as in areas far from crops, will make it possible to identify “the sources that contribute most to pesticide exposure and to adapt preventive measures”, the two agencies confirmed.

The study is to be carried out in two phases. The first analysis phase will start this October and last until February 2022 when vineyard treatments with phytopharmaceutical products are least frequent. The second one will span from March to August the same year when spraying is most frequent.

During these two periods, researchers will measure exposure to pesticides by taking urine and hair samples, and by monitoring pesticide levels in outdoor and indoor air, and in water and food.

Coupled with analyses of the agricultural context of the study areas, meteorological and topographical data, the results of this study should shed light on the link between wine-growing activities and pesticide exposure.

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Ambiguous reactions

“Finally a French study that will look at the exposure of local residents to pesticides,” said NGO Générations Futures quickly after the announcement, pointing to the numerous studies that already show “increasingly clear” links between pesticide exposure and various diseases.

The subject has also received wide media coverage recently.

Civil society groups like the Glyphosate Campaign, for instance, has been involved in various urine sampling and analysis campaigns. According to results published by the group last June, pesticides in food and the environment in France are believed to affect “nearly 100% of the population”.

Winegrowers, however, are concerned about this announcement.

“We are not convinced that the Anses and Santé publique France, once the analysis and dissemination work is done, will make the necessary effort to educate and contradict to avoid hasty conclusions”, the president of the Bordeaux Wine Trade Council, Bernard Farges, who was quoted by Le Monde, has warned. Farges also spoke of a “bias” towards Gironde vineyards, warning that “we will not support this approach”.

Revisiting French and EU regulations

France’s Council of State, a governmental body that acts as the supreme court for administrative justice, ordered on 26 July that “the rules for the use [of pesticides] should be completed to better protect the population” following appeals lodged by several municipalities, associations and organic farmers.

In its decision, the court also ruled that the minimum distances for spraying products of suspected toxicity were “insufficient”.

It stated that the government should provide protective measures for people working near areas where pesticides are used and that the commitment agreements on the use of these products should provide information to be given to residents before pesticides are used, giving the government six months to complete the regulations in force on these points.

At the EU level, some twenty environmental and health organisations made the call for EU regulation on pesticide statistics in early October.

“It is time to modernise European data on pesticides,” according to the signatories of a list of recommendations addressed to the representatives of EU countries in the European Parliament’s agriculture and rural development committee (AGRI).

“No one in the EU currently has a complete and accurate picture of the extent to which people and the environment are actually exposed to these chemicals,” the NGOs argued.

The signatories demanded that the regulation, once revised, should ensure that “all relevant data is collected”, with the utmost transparency and “without delay”.

As the results of these various initiatives are awaited in France and across the EU, Générations Futures has announced the publication by early 2022 of its own results regarding pesticide levels in the air of people living near cultivated areas.

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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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