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France bans bee-killing insecticides

media A 2016 study which found that about 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops depend on pollinators, especially bees REUTERS/Mike Blake

The use of neonicotinoids, insecticides that contributed to the decline in the bee population, has been banned in France. The French ban goes further than a European Union measure and has angered some farmers.

As from on Saturday 1 September 2018 the use of five neocotinoids - clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, thiacloprid and acetamiprid - is illegal in France.

Introduced in the mid-1990s, lab-synthesised neonicotinoids are based on the chemical structure of nicotine and attack the central nervous system of insects.

They were meant to be a less harmful substitute to older pesticides and are now the most widely used to treat flowering crops, including fruit trees, beets, wheat, canola and vineyards.

But they have been found to harm bee reproduction by diminishing sperm quality and foraging by scrambling their memory and navigation functions.

Exposure also lowers the insects' resistance to disease.

Ecologists point out that the decline in the bee population - due to a number of factors, including pesticides - disrupts pollenisation, having a knock-on effect on agriculture and the environment.

The UN has warned that nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction.

Farmers worried

The French ban goes further than a European one that comes into effect on 19 December at the latest but only forbids the use of clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam in open fields.

Some French farmers' groups object to the ban, arguing that it is based on insufficient evidence and will make their crops less competitive with imported produce.

The Anses public health agency said in May there were "sufficiently effective, and operational" alternatives to the majority of neonicotinoids.

But farmers' union FNSEA wants exemptions for maize and beets, saying that there are no sufficiently effective alternative ways to tackle insects that seriously damage the crops.

The use of neonicotinoids will continue to be authorised for use in non-agricultural pest control, such as in flea collars for pets or in household fly traps.

The ban pitted French Agriculture Minister Stéphane Travert, who lobbied for easing it, against environment minister Nicolas Hulot, who refused to back down but resigned from the government last week, saying he felt isolated.

It allows for individual exemptions on the use of acetamiprid until 1 July 2020.

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