1st August, 2014 by Gabriel Stone
France is set to tighten laws on pesticide use after the country’s Senate approved a proposal that would prevent farmers from using spraying practices that pose a health risk to people.
The move comes after 23 children and their teacher were taken ill in the Bordeaux region as a result of vineyard spraying near their school. Similarly in April a winery in the Dordogne was convicted of “gross negligence” when an employee was hospitalised as a result of pesticide poisoning.
The proposed law, which must still be passed by France’s National Assembly this September, would give local councils the power to stop farmers from spraying at certain times of day and make sure that they use specialist equipment when working close to built up areas.
However, the amendment stopped short of enforcing an early plan for 200m radius pesticide-free zones around towns and villages on the grounds that the location of many vineyards and other arable crops would make such a move unworkable.
France currently has one of the highest levels of pesticide use in Europe, although its “EcoPhyto” plan launched in 2008 with the aim of halving this level across all forms of agriculture by 2018.
Vineyards pose a particular health risk, not only because grapes are particularly prone to disease and therefore can require more regular spraying, but also because the vast majority of French vineyards are sprayed with air atomisers, which allow pesticides to drift, rather than the more closely targeted downward boom sprayers used on arable crops.
A recent report in Farmers Weekly highlighted this issue, indicating that French grape growers’ ongoing use of the current machines came down to a combination of habit and the higher cost of more accurate machinery.
However, for the last five years a team of researchers at France’s National Research Institute of Science and Technology of Environment and Agriculture (IRSTEA) in Montpellier has been focusing its efforts on methods to reduce the environmental impact of pesticides and improve the efficiency of their application.
Among the techniques being explored are low-drift, air induction spray nozzles. Highlighting the benefit of these, IRSTEA senior researcher Ariane Vallet told the magazine: “We need to promote its use and perhaps we need to find a way of subsidising the uptake of this sort of technology in the vineyards.”