PARIS (Reuters) – France has dropped plans to allow sugar beet growers to use again this year a pesticide banned over risks to bees, after a European Union court rejected such exemptions, the country’s agriculture minister said on Monday.
After granting sugar beet growers in 2020 an exemption of up to three years to a general ban on neonicotinoid chemicals, the government had been preparing a third and final annual dispensation to cover the 2023 crop.
However, in a ruling published on Thursday, the Court of Justice of the European Union said member states cannot offer exemptions to the bloc’s ban on crop seeds treated with neonicotinoids.
“We will not request … a third year of exemption for treated sugar beet seeds. It’s finished,” Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau told reporters after a meeting with representatives of the sugar sector.
The three-year exemption was aimed at protecting crops from a disease that ravaged the 2020 sugar beet harvest while giving the sector time to develop other effective crop-protection solutions.
The French government would cover any losses incurred by growers if the disease, known as virus yellows and transmitted by aphids, occurred this year, Fesneau said.
France would also raise at the EU level the issue of imports of sugar and ethanol biofuel from countries not subject to neonicotinoid restrictions, he added.
Farmers and sugar makers have warned that the EU ruling could lead to a further decline in sugar beet planting and threaten the future of sugar factories, while anti-pesticide associations have welcomed the court’s position as closing loop-holes in the bloc’s neonicotinoid ban.
(Reporting by Gus Trompiz and Sybille de La Hamaide; Editing by Leslie Adler)