French regulator says pesticides a priority in curbing new plant diseases

PARIS, (Reuters) – France needs to retain pesticides to combat new plant diseases spread by international trade and climate change even as it tries to phase out some crop chemicals like glyphosate, the country’s health and safety agency said late last month.

A first case was confirmed in France last week of a virus that can ravage tomato plants, which the ANSES agency said was one of a growing list of emerging diseases that risked taking hold in the country.

“When there are sanitary crises in plants, you don’t have antibiotics. The main response is eradication: you destroy and you disinfect,” ANSES director general Roger Genet told reporters on Monday at the annual Paris farm show.

“We need to keep a range of effective molecules and at the same time reduce their use as much as possible,” he said.

France’s blanket ban on neonicotinoids, a type of insecticide blamed for endangering honeybees, had for example removed an effective product to combat the red palm weevil, Genet added.

The beetle, which attacks palm trees, is present on France’s Mediterranean coast.

As the agency that delivers permits for crop pesticides, ANSES has been at the centre of fierce debate over pesticide use, including a government plan to phase out common weedkiller glyphosate.

ANSES said in December that it was withdrawing licences for dozens of weedkillers due to insufficient data on safety risks or where there were alternatives, as it continued a government-requested review of glyphosate-based products.

The French government is pushing to phase out glyphosate by next year. The herbicide has been linked to cancer, but many farmers and scientists say it is safe when used correctly.

However, the government has said it will allow exemptions where there are no other viable options, notably for soil conservation farming that avoids ploughing but uses glyphosate.

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