French growers blockade Paris in neonics ban protest

Hundreds of angry sugar beet growers have caused gridlock in central Paris during a protest over pesticide bans.

Protest organisers suggested as many as 500 tractors headed through the French capital’s streets to join a rally outside government agricultural offices.

According to Reuters news agency, the main focus of grower anger was the French government’s decision to abide by an EU-wide ban on neonicotinoids.

See also: Farmers need cash to move away from neonics, ministers told

France had initially introduced a derogation allowing the continued use of neonicotinoids to protect beet crops against the potentially devastating aphid-borne virus yellows disease, which can reduce yields by up to 50%.

But the derogation was overturned by an EU Court ruling in January.

The ruling sparked fears of a further decline in sugar beet plantings and factory closures in the face of a heightened disease risk.

Growers demanded their government stood up to the EU, calling for a return to French sovereignty.

Protest banners and placards were daubed with phrases targeting French president Emmanuel Macron including “Macron is liquidating agriculture”.

Jerome Despey, secretary general of the FNSEA, France’s main farming union, said: “Our means of production keep being undermined by prohibitions without solutions. Enough is enough.”

French agriculture minister Marc Fesneau is now expected to present a plan to sugar beet sector leaders that includes compensation payments for infected crops.

The move is aimed at providing growers with enough financial assurance to encourage planting for the coming season.

UK situation

Last month, Defra issued an emergency authorisation for the use of Cruiser SB (thiamethoxam) to treat sugar beet seed in 2023, following an application from NFU Sugar and British Sugar.

However, the neonicotinoid can only be used if the independent Rothamsted Virus Yellows Model predicts a virus incidence of 63% or above, which looks unlikely given the recent cold spell.

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