In a bid to spur the EU into action, the French ban on neonicotinoids could be set back several months and subject to a number of exceptions. EURACTIV France reports.
As the leader of Europe’s efforts to tackle the agricultural crisis, France has chosen not to launch a similar solo crusade against neonicotinoids, a commonly-used type of pesticide that it extremely poisonous to bees and other pollinators.
The French parliament began its second reading of the biodiversity bill on Tuesday (15 March), during which French MPs are due to decide on the future regulation of neonicotinoids.
Throughout the legislative bill’s progress, the ban on these pesticides has undergone several alterations. The latest decision taken by members of the National Assembly (France’s lower house of parliament), to enforce a total ban from 1 January 2017, was adopted by the sustainable development committee on 9 March.
Change of course
This decision is supported not only by the Socialist majority, but also by members of France’s other political families. But ahead of the plenary vote, Minister for Agriculture Stéphane Le Foll sent a letter to all the Socialist MPs, asking them not to vote for a complete and immediate ban on the pesticides.
In this letter, seen by Le Monde, the minister justified his decision by saying he feared that French farmers, already under severe strain from the agricultural crisis, would suffer market “distortions” that would put them at a disadvantage compared to other European farmers, and called on France’s political leaders to “take action at the right level, the European level”.
The minister also told the National Assembly’s European affairs committee on Tuesday (15 March) that France should not “over transpose” European directives “and ban substances that are authorised in other [EU] countries”.
With the agricultural crisis still in full swing, “the minister is clearly being put under very great pressure from the main French farming union”, a source told EURACTIV.
According to the source, Socialist MPs who were recently calling for a complete ban to be enacted as quickly as possible have now proposed a number of compromise amendments, eager to avoid an “all-or-nothing scenario and make progress on neonicotinoids”.
Weakening the ban
On Friday 11 March, a new amendment proposed that neonicotinoids be banned from September 2017, nine months after the original planned date.
Another change was the introduction of possible derogations from this ban. The amendment foresees that “provisional derogations may be afforded by the administrative authority in case of severe danger to crops, if no other solution exists”.
“The ban on neonicotinoids is very much the rule, and their use a strictly regulated exception,” the MPs wrote.
Partial European moratorium
At a European level, the issue of neonicotinoids is far from settled. The European Commission had placed a two-year moratorium on three kinds of neonicotinoids: clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. This moratorium expired in December 2015 and is currently under review.
For Vytenis Andriukaitis, the European Commissioner for Health, the question of extending the moratorium could be discussed if the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reveals new information in its next study on the pesticides. No publication date is yet planned.
The European Commission has launched a rescue plan for Europe’s dwindling honeybee colonies.
In January 2013, it adopted a 24-month ban on three widely-used neonicitinoid pesticides that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says pose “high acute risks” to pollinators.
Around 16% of Europe’s honeybee colonies disappeared between 1985 and 2005 – with greater losses recorded in England, the Czech Republic, Germany and Sweden – according to the EU-funded Status and Trends of European Pollinators (STEP) project.
Insects such as honey bees and wild bees help pollinate around 84% of Europe’s 264 crop species and 4,000 vegetable varieties, contributing an estimated €22 billion to the EU's economy, STEP says.
The EU-funded STEP project recommends several ways farmers can protect bee populations: try to avoid those pesticides known to have negative impacts on bees; reduce the use of herbicides which suppress flowering plants; leave uncultivated flower rich patches in farmland where pollinators can benefit from flowers and nesting resources; plant mass-flowering crops (oilseed, clover and field beans) as part of rotations to provide extra nectar and pollen for bees and other insects.
French National Assembly: Biodiversity bill