Farming News - France bans crop spraying during daylight hours to protect bees

France bans crop spraying during daylight hours to protect bees

07 May 2014


French agriculture minister Stephane Le Foll today announced that farmers will be prevented from spraying crops during daylight hours between the months of March and October, in a bid to protect bees and other pollinating insects.



In an update on the three year development plan for sustainable apiculture (PDDA), launched in 2013, the minister said that farmers would be prevented from spraying during periods of activity for bees, with no exceptions.


Last winter, the farming minister symbolically installed four beehives in the garden of the agriculture ministry, a sign that he takes the issue of bee decline seriously and will act in the insects' interests. An EU study published last month revealed that northern states have been worst hit by bee declines. The study, conducted across 17 of the 29 member states, revealed France has the highest rate of in-season colony die-offs, though overwinter collapses were worse in Belgium and the UK.  


Bees and other pollinating insects are in decline across the northern hemisphere, and this has grave implications for food production; fully a third of the foods on which humanity relies are pollinated by insects.


In introducing the unprecedented ban, Le Foll was acting on the advice of French state science agency ANSES, which told the government in March that actions to protect the health of bees and other pollinating insects should revolve around daylight hours, given the high variability of other factors governing bees' behaviour (including temperature, favoured crop type, humidity) ANSES recommended the government "modify spraying practices towards spraying during the evening" when bees are no longer foraging.


The Agency also warned that spraying before dawn could leave traces of potentially harmful products on plants and in dew. Speaking to French newspaper Le Figaro on Wednesday, Axel Decourtye, scientific director at bee institute Itsap, supported the Agency's conclusions, saying "with the exception of wild bees that nest in the ground, darkness is effectively the only guarantee that there are no foraging bees in crops. The persistence of plant products means it is necessary to restrict their application towards the end of the night or at dawn."


However, pesticide manufacturers have reacted strongly to the new measures. Eugenia Pommaret, from plant protection group UIPP, complained that the government had not consulted with or even informed the industry before announcing the measures and added that the new regulations would present risks for spray operators and, curiously, nocturnal insects, wildlife and game animals.  


Even so, the agriculture ministry has said the new legislation will come into force once it has been fully drafted; authorities currently expect the regulation to come into effect by October this year.


This is not the first pollinator protection precedent to be set by the French government. Ahead of a wider European ban on three varieties of neonicotinoid insecticide introduced last year, the governments of France and Italy had already placed tight restrictions on the products, which have been linked to adverse health effects on bee populations.


Meanwhile in the UK, the government declared last year that it rejects the science linking neonicotinoids with health impacts on bees in the field; an evaluation of Defra-funded research, which partly supported Whitehall's position by the European Food Safety Authority revealed that the field experiment had been hopelessly compromised and concluded that it was inadmissible as evidence to inform the neonicotinoid debate.