The Platform

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal during a discussion with farmers. (Twitter)

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal provoked the ire of environmental groups by announcing the suspension of the Ecophyto plan.

Eight leading environmental groups staged a walkout from the strategic orientation and oversight committee meeting of the Ecophyto plan, attended by five key ministers of the Attal administration.

In a move that stoked the embers of conflict between the French government and environmental organizations, French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announced the halting of the Ecophyto initiative. This plan was on course to halve the usage of phytopharmaceutical products by 2030 (using 2015-2017 as a baseline), with a revised set of benchmarks to monitor their utilization. This decision transformed a previously manageable situation into a volatile crisis embroiling environmental associations.

Générations futures, France Nature Environnement, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Fondation pour la Nature et l’Homme, the Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO), and Alerte des Médecins sur Les Pesticides have fiercely denounced the Ecophyto plan’s new strategic direction and abandoned the oversight committee’s Monday meeting on February 12, to preclude sanctioning what they describe as “endorsing a 15-year step backwards.”

According to the French daily Le Monde, the NGOs assert that “to call into question the NODU [number of dose units] indicator is to call into question the very objective of reducing pesticide use…and therefore the very existence of the Ecophyto plan.” The NODU indicator, operational since the inauguration of the inaugural Ecophyto plan in 2009, tabulates the frequency of treatments per hectare. Accounting for the potency of each active ingredient, it highlights the varying effects on health and the environment for substances with similar weights, Le Monde elucidates.

The agrochemical sector and the Fédération Nationale des Syndicats d’Exploitants Agricoles (FNSEA) advocate for an alternative benchmark, the Harmonized Risk Indicator (HRI-1), which allocates a coefficient to the amounts of pesticides applied that purports to signify their hazard level.

“By giving the signal that agriculture can relax its efforts on pesticides, the government has chosen to open Pandora’s box,” laments Jean Burkard, Director of Advocacy at WWF. “It’s a gift to industrial agriculture rather than to farmers in all their diversity, at a time when the farming community was saying it wanted support, not pesticides.” The NGOs are asking to be received “as soon as possible” by the prime minister to “renew dialogue with civil society.”

Conversely, the Ministry of Agriculture criticized the groups’ departure. “It is not acceptable to leave a meeting for exchange and consultation when no decision has been taken.” The monitoring committee of the Ecophyto plan witnessed participation from five government representatives: Minister for Agriculture and Food Sovereignty Marc Fesneau, his recent coadjutor at the Ministry, Agnès Pannier-Runacher; Minister for Ecological Transition Christophe Béchu; Minister for Higher Education and Research Sylvie Retailleau; and the Minister Delegate for Health and Prevention, Frédéric Valletoux.

In light of the farming community’s persistent lobbying and ultimatums directed at the French government, FNSEA president Arnaud Rousseau cautioned that agricultural protests would rekindle unless substantive actions were adopted prior to the Salon de l’Agriculture, slated for February 24 to March 3. This ultimatum left the government with no recourse but to choose between ecological concerns and agricultural demands.

The head of the FNSEA, whose principal stipulation was the suspension of the Ecophyto plan, disclosed his scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Attal on the afternoon of Tuesday, February 13. However, “for 10 days,” subsequent to the cessation of the farmers’ blockades, he lamented the absence of any ministerial dialogues with either the Agriculture Minister or the prime minister, and “no follow-up meeting.”

The dispute is further inflamed by the absence of conciliation and political resolve amongst the three factions—the environmental NGOs, the Ecophyto plan’s Orientation and Monitoring Council, and the government—all of whom are entrenched in what the environmental entities decry as a repudiation of democratic principles.

Jamal Mustafayev is a graduate of the State University of New York where he studied Communications, where he specialized in corporate and political communications, further attending Universidad Europea in Madrid for his MBA and obtaining an Executive Education degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His areas of interest include politics in the European, Middle Eastern, and the Caucasus region.