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France suspends use of metam-sodium pesticide after dozens sickened

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A farmer sprays pesticides on his crops in Bailleul, northern France in 2015. AFP/Philippe Huguen

The French government on Friday ordered a three-month ban of a widely used pesticide after dozens of people, many of them farm workers, fell ill in western France in recent weeks.


The metam-sodium ban came after victims near the city of Angers reported symptoms such as burning eyes and respiratory difficulties. The surrounding region is a producer of lamb’s lettuce, a salad green popular on French and European tables. Farmers growing this crop often spread metam-sodium powder on the ground to protect the plants against a wide range of insects.

But the product, one of the most widely used pesticides in the US and Europe, is considered a "probable human carcinogen" by the US Environmental Protection Agency and is not meant to be applied directly to plants.

There have been at least three outbreaks of illness in the Maine-et-Loire region since late September, possibly because the product was improperly applied on land that was too dry during a period of unseasonably warm weather, French officials said.

61 reported cases

Of the 61 reported cases, 17 people had to be briefly hospitalised, prompting local authorities to suspend metam-sodium use earlier this month.

The national ban "is a wise decision for the health of our farm workers and citizens," local lawmakers in President Emmanuel Macron's LREM party said in a statement.

"We now need to help producers to quickly roll out existing alternatives" to the pesticide, they said.

Metam-sodium, sold under brand names including Vapam and Sectagon, is authorised in the EU until 2022, when it will come up for review by regulators.

(with AFP)