Pesticide divorce proceedings

April 2018
Protest against pesticides in Paris 2016
Photo Creative Commons
The EU's biggest grain grower, grain exporter and food producer, France, has been leading the way in healthy food and farming for the last decade.

France was one of the first Member States to 'opt out' of growing GM crops in 2015 (see Note below).

The following year, a ban on pesticide use in public green spaces was announced by the French government, plus a prohibition on over-the-counter sales of pesticides to non-professional gardeners. From 2019, pesticide use will be prohibited in private gardens also.

In 2008, an ambitious plan was initiated by French regulators to halve the use of all agricultural pesticides, and in particular phase out glyphosate herbicides* by 2022.

The scheme was later revamped to a more modest 25% reduction by 2020 and 50% by 2025. During this time, an expanding network of pioneer farms will be experimenting with alternative techniques such as biological controls and how to achieve more precise, efficient applications of any pesticides in use. An associated initiative involves imposing binding targets on pesticide suppliers to reduce their sales volumes by selling farmers services to reduce their chemical use instead of the chemicals.

If all this sounds impractical, a team of French researchers analysing data from 946 pioneer farms found no yield penalty was incurred by lowering pesticide use in 77% of cases. Only in farms associated with industrial farming (i.e. those more typical of systems based on GM crops elsewhere in the world) were yields dependent on high pesticide use.

The team concluded that about 59% of all farms in France could reduce their pesticide use by 42% without harming yields.

Fast forward to 2018 and these initiatives have been furthered with a requirement that at least half of all food bought by the public sector must be organic or locally produced by 2022. The new rules form part of measures to boost French farming and to improve diets.

The UK Soil Association has suggested our government "sit up" and "take note" of these French policies. They clearly highlight the power of public procurement to support better farming practices and encourage healthy eating. A weighting of at least 60% on food quality relative to cost instead of the current race to the bottom of both was suggested as a goal.


In view of our impending divorce from the EU, we would do well to follow France's lead and divorce ourselves from pesticides and from imported pesticide-laden foods too. Then again, a divorce from pesticides in practice means a divorce from GM.

As GM Freeze points out: "Almost all the UK's food and farming legislation currently comes from Europe, including rules that require case by case environmental risk assessment and labelling of GMOs in our food ... The UK's departure from the EU could result in enormous changes to the way we govern food and farming", and above all "with so many issues competing for attention it would be easy for vital GM safeguards to be quietly dropped". Join GM Freeze twin campaigns on Brexit (Safeguard our Farms) and GM (Don't Hide What's Inside) at 

Note on Europe's GM 'opt out' law 

An EU law approved in 2015 cleared the way for new GMO crops to be approved for growing after years of deadlock. This law gives individual countries the right to ban GMO crops even after they have been approved by the European Commission, providing the biotech company which made the application is also petitioned.
As part of its opt-out process, France passed its own legislation to enable it to oppose the cultivation of GM crops on the basis of certain criteria including environment and farm policy, land use, economic impact or civil order.
France was joined in its GM opt-out by several countries including Germany and Scotland. 

*Although glyphosate-based herbicides are key to GM crop growing in the Americas, they have also become a mainstay of farming practice across Europe, and have been widely applied in our gardens and public areas. 


  • Martin Lechenet, et al., 2017, Reducing pesticide use while preserving crop productivity and profitability on arable farms, Nature Plants, Letters 1.03.17
  • Bob Yirka, Crops in France found to thrive despite reduced use of pesticides, 28.02.17 
  • France delays pesticide reduction goal by 7 years, Reuters 30.01.15 
  • France bans pesticides in public green spaces,, 29.12.16 
  • France bolsters ban on genetically modified crops, Reuters, 17.09.15 
  • French government declares war on pesticides,, 25.09.17
  • France to make half of all food in public sector organic or local by 2022, Farming UK, 5.02.18
  • German cabinet approves draft law banning GMO crops, Reuters, 2.11.16

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