Tensions heat up over glyphosate debate as French mayors limit herbicide use

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

©GettyImages/Mihajlo Maricic
©GettyImages/Mihajlo Maricic

Related tags Glyphosate weed killer France

Without a national or EU-wide ban on herbicide glyphosate, a number of mayors in France are attempting to limit its use within their communities.

Glyphosate is perhaps the most controversial herbicide on the market. First authorised for use in the EU in 1974 by US agribusiness giant Monsanto, glyphosate – or Roundup as it was branded – is today one of the most commonly used weed killers across the bloc.

Whether the use of glyphosate poses a health risk to humans is much debated. In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO)’s cancer agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), issued a report concluding that glyphosate is ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’.

Just months later, the chemical product was controversially re-authorised for a five-year period. At the time, in late 2017, 18 Member States voted in favour of the license. This represented a majority of 65.71% of the EU population – just over the 65% threshold required to renew its licence.

Subsequent studies by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) have concluded that there is not enough evidence to support the link between glyphosate and cancer risk.

France was one of nine EU countries to vote against glyphosate’s re-authorisation in 2017. Two years on, this sentiment has not abated.

Grassroots ban

Some steps towards eliminating the weed-killer in France have been made. In January 2019, French authorities banned the sale, distribution and use of a form of glyphosate – Roundup 360 – across the country.

And four months later, French agriculture minister Didier Guillaume announced plans to eliminate the use of glyphosate by 2021, with limited exceptions.

However, those seeking speedier action are now attempting to take matters into their own hands. Dissatisfied with the absence of a nation- or EU-wide ban on all forms of glyphosate, certain towns are limiting its use at municipal level.

In May 2019, the mayor of Langouët in Brittany, Daniel Cueff, banned the use of phytopharmaceutical products in areas less than 150 metres from its residents’ houses.

A number of other municipals followed suit, including Gennevilliers and Sceaux on the outskirts of Paris; Perray-en-Yvelines, southwest of the capital; the capital of Burgundy, Dijon, and its neighbouring town Chenôve.

However, Cueff’s glyphosate ban has since been suspended. According to the administrative court of Rennes, which was responsible for rejecting the mayor’s decree, a town hall does not have the power to take such decisions. The court ruled that bans on phytopharmaceutical products are the responsibility of the state.

In an interview with Konbini News​, French president Emannuel Macron said he supports Cueff’s intentions, yet ultimately, laws must be respected.

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