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Campaigners threaten France with legal action over use of pesticides

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The French government is being threatened with court action by two NGOs who accuse it of failing to meet its obligations to protect nature.

Notre Affaire à Tous and Pollinis have issued an ultimatum to the French state for failing to tackle the biodiversity crisis by implementing adequate laws and regulations. The announcement was made at the IUCN world conservation congress in the French port of Marseille and will be followed by a civil disobedience rally.

They argue the state has allowed widespread use and marketing of pesticides that harm wildlife. They are focusing on the use of neonicotinoids – banned in the EU but authorised under specific conditions in France – and glyphosate, which when used in weedkillers has been linked to killing insects and cancer in humans.

By allowing the systematic use of these chemicals, the French state has failed its duty of care to the country’s wildlife, the two NGOs argue. The state must adopt a rigorous and efficient pesticide registration process, and also reexamine marketing rules within the next two months, campaigners say.

Julie Pecheur of Pollinis said: “There is now a scientific consensus on the role played by conventional farming and the use of pesticides in biodiversity erosion.

“Civil society has been trying for decades to pass on this expertise to the authorities and offer solutions, in vain. The law must now intervene. The 19th century saw the birth of human rights; the 20th century saw the birth of social rights; the 21st century must be the century of the rights of nature.”

Cécilia Rinaudo, executive director at Notre Affaire à Tous, said: “It is time for the French government to be held accountable for the collapse of the living world and to respect its commitments.”

Like many countries, France has signed international treaties stating its ambition to tackle the catastrophic loss of wildlife. The French ministry of ecology has said it is necessary to “make the protection of biodiversity one of the priorities of major public policies”.

However, the NGOs argue, the state’s actions have been inadequate.

Nicolas Laarman, managing director of Pollinis, said: “Despite all the talk and despite national, European and international laws and conventions, the French government has failed to set up a pesticide approval system that truly protects pollinators and wildlife in general.

“The figures of the current collapse are appalling. This generalised decline in biodiversity will have dramatic consequences on the balance of life and threatens the future of the next generations.”

Scientists have repeatedly shown a link between the widespread use of pesticides on agricultural land and the loss of pollinators, which are essential to so many food chains. This is believed to be a leading cause of insect losses worldwide – along with the destruction of wild areas. Last year, a global study showed insect numbers had dropped by almost 25% in the last 30 years.

EU members banned neonicotinoids on crops in 2018 because of the damage they do to bees, but some countries have subsequently allowed them to be used in specific situations.

During the IUCN opening ceremony on Friday, Macron said he would use France’s presidency of the EU in 2022 to push for change across the continent on the use of pesticides. He acknowledged an outright ban would be complicated but said he was working with farmers for reform.

Find more age of extinction coverage here, and follow biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on Twitter for all the latest news and features

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