Inès Zeghloul with AFP 6:31 p.m., January 23, 2023, modified at 2:09 p.m., January 24, 2023

A blow for sugar beet growers.

The government will not renew the derogation which allowed the use of neonicotinoids, an insecticide effective against aphids, but which also does a lot of harm to bees.

A decision hailed by the League for the Protection of Birds.

A "great victory" for biodiversity, a crushing blow for beet growers: bowing to a European court decision, France announced on Monday that it would give up authorizing neonicotinoids by way of derogation to protect sugar beet seeds which must be planted in March.

"I have no intention of strolling the farmers and in particular those who are worried, because it is in 4 to 6 weeks that they will make the decision to plant the seeds", declared the Minister of Agriculture during a press briefing in Paris.

>> Find Europe Midi in replay and podcast here

No third year exemption

The government will therefore not propose a "third year of derogation on the coating of beet seeds, it is over for this element, the decision of the Court of Justice (European) is powerful enough not to destabilize even more the system," underlined Marc Fesneau.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled on Thursday that no derogation concerning seeds treated with neonicotinoids was justified, including in the exceptional circumstances invoked to protect sugar beets.

Neonicotinoids, insecticides that attack the nervous system of insects, are implicated in the massive decline of bee colonies.

Several substances have been banned in the EU since 2018, but several countries have granted derogations to preserve sugar yields, these insecticides making it possible to control an aphid vector of beet yellows.

France was preparing to once again authorize their exceptional use for the 2023 campaign, after having done the same in 2021 and 2022. A draft decree authorizing this derogation was in public consultation, pending the opinion of the neonicotinoid monitoring board.

"A great victory for biodiversity" for the LPO

The League for the Protection of Birds (LPO) hailed Monday evening a "great victory for biodiversity" with this decision which "testifies that the protection of biodiversity, respect for European law and the guarantee of farmers' income can be reconciled" .

"Neonicotinoids: period!"

trumpeted the association Agir pour l'environnement, which had twice brought this fight against neonicotinoids before the Council of State, calling in vain for their total ban.

Beet growers are themselves "collapsed".

"There will be drops in surface area, planters who will give up. If it's a year with low pressure (of jaundice), we will know how to manage, but if it's like in 2020 where we lost a third of the harvest , it will be catastrophic," Franck Sander, president of the General Confederation of Beet Planters (CGB), told AFP.

A decision that can "endanger the entire industry"

Marc Fesneau, who himself said he was in favor of a “last year” of derogation to allow the sector to develop an alternative solution to these substances, tried to reassure producers and sugar manufacturers, received on Monday afternoon.

“I agreed with the representatives of the sector that we would put in place a system which would make it possible to cover the risk of losses which would be linked to jaundice, while we find the alternatives which we need”, a- he specified.

The minister also wants "to activate the safeguard clauses at European level so that there is no distortion of competition", while France is the leading European sugar producer.

In the event of jaundice, the CGB claims full compensation, without deductible, under penalty of "endangering the entire sector", from the 24,000 producers to the factories which transform the roots into sugar, alcohol or bioethanol fuel.

Franck Sander fears European competition and in particular that of Germany, which "has given up on coated seeds but authorized a neonicotinoid spray product".

"We are not on equal terms with Germany. We have to be helped," he says, explaining that the spray products currently authorized in France are more respectful of insects, but "less effective".