December 20, 2019 / 7:02 PM / a month ago

France sets pesticide safe zones, angering both farmers and environmentalists

PARIS (Reuters) - The French government on Friday established safe distances for pesticide spreading on crops near homes in an attempt to settle a heated debate between farmers and environmentalists but managing to anger both groups at once.

From Jan. 1, there must be a five-metre gap between sprayed fields and housing for shorter crops like cereals and a 10-metre zone for taller crops like fruit trees, the agriculture, environment and health ministries said in a joint statement.

The statement was in line with recommendations made by French food and environment agency ANSES earlier this year.

France’s largest farmers’ union, the FNSEA, which has opposed mandatory pesticide-free zones as potentially forcing farmers to give up large amounts of land, reacted angrily.

“By establishing, in certain situations, incompressible safety distances, whatever the protection practices and measures, the government gives way to ideology and abandons many farmers without any solution,” the FNSEA said in a statement.

Environmental group France Nature Environment (FNE) criticised the measures for not going far enough.

“What we feared has happened,” FNE representative Thibault Leroux said, adding the group was considering going to court to challenge the decision.

Commercial pesticides have already been banned in public spaces such as parks since January 2017, and the ban was extended to include private homes and gardens this year.

The government is aiming to phase out use of controversial weedkiller glyphosate by 2021, although it has promised to take into account farms with no viable alternatives.

Farmers angered by government policies that they say threaten their livelihoods drove convoys of tractors into Paris last month, obstructing commuter traffic and adding to the social unrest facing President Emmanuel Macron.

Reporting by Forrest Crellin, editing by Gus Trompiz and Nick Macfie

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