France became the first EU country to take this step with the Labbé law in 2014. In force since January this year, the first stage of the law forbids the use of pesticides by the French state, local authorities and public bodies for the maintenance of public spaces, forests and roadsides. Derogations exist for cemeteries and sports grounds.
The sale of phytosanitary products to amateur gardeners will also be banned from January 2019. With the vast majority of phytosanitary products in France used in professional agriculture, the law will cut the overall use of these chemicals by around 10%.
Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands have set themselves similar targets of cutting non-agricultural pesticide use.
At European level, the 28 member states have already agreed to establish national action plans to cut the use of pesticides, but in reality, France is one of the only countries that has really put this plan into action.
The EU’s biggest pesticides addict, ahead of Spain, France’s "Ecophyto" plan provides the country with a roadmap to slash its consumption of agricultural chemicals.
But pesticide use has continued to grow since the plan was first elaborated in 2008, jumping by 9.4% from 2013-14 alone. “Yet, in 2015-16 the use of pesticides in non-agricultural areas fell by 14%. So far, this may be the only success of the Ecophyto plan,” the Générations Futures representative said.
Awareness is really growing in France about the health and environmental impacts of phytosanitary products,” said Labbé. “Now the text has to be examined in the committees and it should be ready in two or three months, at the latest,” the senator added.
Pesticides are a particularly touchy subject for the EU. On 15 March, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) ruled that there was not enough scientific evidence to classify glyphosate, one of the most-used herbicides in Europe and an ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, as a carcinogen.
This may influence the EU executive’s decision on whether or not to renew the market authorisation for this chemical, which many NGOs and several EU member states, including France, would prefer to see banned.
More broadly, the European approval system for pesticides has regularly been criticised, particularly by Ombudswoman Emily O’Reilly, for its inadequate application of the precautionary principle.