French govt slammed for putting pesticide phase-out on hold

France's government was on the defensive on Friday after environmental campaigners and opposition politicians accused it of having scrapped a key green policy to appease protesting farmers.

Agricultural workers started to lift roadblocks after more than a week of demonstrations, following government promises of cash and eased regulation.

Among the concessions announced by Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau on Thursday was that a 15-year-old government plan to stem dependence on insecticides and weedkillers would be put on hold.

The latest version of the Ecophyto plan had aimed to reduce the use of pesticides by 2030 to half of 2015-2017 levels.

But growers see the plan as yet another hurdle to their earning a decent living, as they compete with cheaper imports from countries with less stringent environmental regulations.

They complain that no viable alternatives to the pesticides are available.

Greens and left-wing politicians, as well as NGOs, have condemned Thursday's announcement.

But government spokeswoman Prisca Thevenot on Friday morning defended the move, saying measures to reduce pesticide use so far had not worked and needed rethinking.

It "made for great marketing slogans" but "without any solution to take care of farmers", she said.

The government "is working on the Ecophyto 2030 plan", but will "spend an extra month on it to ensure it is perfectly understood as support, not punishment" for farmers.

"Farmers themselves want more than anyone to stop using these products, because they are the first victims," Thevenot said.

But environmentalists have criticised Thursday's decision.


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