France, a seemingly magical land where after-work emails are strictly verboten and wasting food is an unlawful act, has officially given the boot to harmful chemicals in outdoor places where young children, crucial pollinators and the general public frequently gather.
As reported by the Associated Press, France’s pesticide ban applies to all public parks, gardens and forests including famed Parisian green spaces like Jardin des Tuileries, Bois de Vincennes and Jardin de Luxembourg. For now, pesticides can still be freely used — but one would hope in respectful moderation — at French cemeteries. The manicured turf found at sports stadiums is also off the hook and can continue to be treated with pesticides.
In 2019, the law will expand from public green spaces to private gardens when the over-the-counter sale of pesticides to non-professionals becomes a thing of the past. While private residential green spaces are generally more compact than their public brethren, instances of abuse and misuse of pesticides by amateur gardeners is common. In other words, pesticide use in modest backyard gardens can be just as high extensive as in large municipal parks and, in turn, pose just as high — or even higher —of risk to birds, bees and other beneficial critters.
Last spring, France’s National Assembly voted to usher in a controversial bill calling for an outright ban on neonicotinoid-based pesticides. Although experts have linked neonicotinoids to large-scale bee die-offs in Europe and beyond, opponents of the widespread ban warn that such extensive limitations would ultimately be detrimental to the livelihood of French farmers. Groups rallying against an outright ban on pesticides including farming organizations and agricultural chemical behemoth Bayer, which has never outright denied that European honeybees are in peril but has aggressively downplayed the role that neonicotinoids have in the matter.
France, by the way, is the second largest user of pesticides in Europe, second only to Spain. A significant amount of chemical pesticides are applied to vineyards in the country’s famed wine-producing regions, although the market for wine produced sans pesticides is growing steadily.
French towns blaze the pesticide-free trail
Organic wine and the plight of bees aside, the protection of human health has also been a top concern in France’s anti-pesticide movement. In May 2016, the small farming community of Saint-Jean in Haute-Garrone, southwestern France, became the first French town to ban pesticide use within 50 meters (164 feet) of private homes.
Saint-Jean’s trailblazing anti-pesticide crusade was led by doctor and deputy mayor Gerard Bapt, who links pesticide use to a wide array of serious ailments including cancer:
Research shows that people living near areas where pesticides are used are more affected by some diseases: endocrinal hormone disruption, diabetes and obesity, hormone-dependent cancers, cancer of the blood, male and female fertility problems and birth defects.
Recently pesticides were sprayed next to homes where vulnerable people such as pregnant women or young children might have been exposed. The pesticides used are found in water, with traces of pesticides in nine out of 10 rivers and streams in France.
As far as banning pesticides in non-agricultural environments such as public parks and ornamental gardens, it would appear that France is the first place to enact such a measure on a nationwide level. Individual cities like Lyon, however, have been striving to reduce — or completely eliminate — pesticides in parks and public green spaces for some time now.
English-language French newspaper The Connexction recently praised the city of Lyon, France’s third largest, for keeping all 300 of its public parks and gardens — a swath of urban green space totaling over 1,000 acres — pesticide-free since 2008. By ditching chemicals and relying on natural pest-control methods such as aphid-munching ladybugs and beer traps to keep slugs in check, Lyon has enticed once-scarce bees, butterflies and other wildlife to return to certain city parks.
In 2008, another sizable French city, Strasbourg, also launched a zero-pesticide policy for all public green spaces. Since then, the Alsatian economical and cultural capital has employed chemical-free forms of weed management as well as embraced new and less fussy gardening techniques. The city itself describes the blanket ban on pesticides at parks and publicly accessible open spaces as being “a popular success.”
Outside of France, parks departments in other major cities have made strides in going pesticide-free. Seattle Parks and Recreation, for example, boasts an extensive pesticide reduction scheme in which chemical-free green spaces are bestowed with a special “Pesticide-free Parks” designation. Spread out across the city, a total of 14 Seattle parks have been completely pesticide-free since 2001, with plans to expand that number to 22. And while some parks are still treated with chemical pesticides, all Seattle Parks and Recreation-maintained spaces are free of neonictotoid-based insecticides. The city’s neonicotoid-free status earned it designation as a Bee City, U.S.A. in May 2015.
Back in France, the country’s newly enacted ban on pesticides in public parks and gardens is just one several environmental-minded national measures including a groundbreaking ban on disposable plastic plates, cups and cutlery.