Labbé Law colloquium – Assessment and prospects: towards zero pesticides in non-agricultural areas ?
On the 25th of October, PAN Europe was invited by French Senator Joël Labbé and Noé Association to participate in a colloquium on the 2014 Labbé Law, which prohibits the use of pesticides by municipalities since 2017 and by non-professionals starting from 2019.
The objective of the colloquium was to draw conclusions on the implementation of the law, to assess the difficulties met during this process and to discuss further measures to reduce and even suppress pesticides in non-agricultural areas, as the current law still allows pesticides applications in certain areas such as sport halls and graveyards.
To cover those elements from different points of view, both public and private stakeholders were invited: mayors, manager of green urban spaces, NGOs, gardeners, sustainable development managers for private companies…
Many successful examples were pointed out during this morning of discussion.
Many municipalities are going much further applying the law to the letter, namely by banning pesticides from graveyards and accompanying nonprofessionals and enterprises. In 2011, a Zero Pesticide Indicator was launched in Ile-de-France to monitor the enforcement of the law, as explained Jonathan Flandin. In March 2019, 67% of cities were pesticide-free and 72% of them also banned pesticides from their graveyards. As an example, Versailles has been banning pesticides from its four graveyards since 2009 (accounting for more than 15 hectares!). In other regions, towns like Rennes are working on suppressing pesticides from their sports fields. Municipalities are also accompanying enterprises and co-ownership associations in their transition towards pesticide-free management of green spaces, as Florence Presson, Sceaux deputy mayor, explained.
Another positive element is the dynamic between municipalities that started taking action even before the law entered into application. Pioneers were well perceived from outside and taken as examples, leading other cities to follow suit by taking the leap. Valérie Poilane-Tabart, mayor of Laurenan, highlighted this aspect adding that this promotion was a way to maintain such a dynamic, by favouring the exchange of best practices and preventing any steps backwards in terms of pesticide use.
Enterprises were also invited to share their experiences: the National Electricity Network presented its sustainable development strategy that includes the ban of pesticides from service buildings but also technical zones (ie. electricity network), the main fear being a diminished level of security. However, the company noticed that “greening” those areas did not threaten the infrastructure or the people working in it, rather quite the opposite: workers appreciated working in a greener environment and even reported lower temperatures since the working site had been re-vegetated.
Finally, forestry workers were given the floor to talk about the new regulation of the Forest National Office, which decided to ban the use of pesticides in forest management. Although this decision is a good step forward, implementation will take time and derogations are still allowed. Independent forest engineer Gaëtan Dus Bus highlighted the importance of changing practices also in forestry, lamenting the fact that forests were often excluded from pesticide regulations.
Parallel to those improvements, speakers were also invited to share their concerns regarding gaps and limits in the law, as well as to propose improvements. One first problem raised was the law’s implementation by municipalities: as mentioned before by J. Flandin, not all municipalities are applying the law in Ile-de-France, which leads us to wonder whether this is the case for other regions and that a monitoring of the implementation is needed.
However, the main issue pointed out by almost all stakeholders was the additional costs to acquire new tools and to form gardeners on alternative techniques. As public financing in municipalities decreases, the implementation of the law can be difficult, especially in small towns. However, some mayors like Valérie Poilane-Tabart found solutions : she launched a volunteering weeding programme for the citizens of Laurenan in order to help gardeners.
Besides, municipalities also lack experts to change practices and form public but also private gardeners to uptake new techniques. Thierry Muller from the Horticulture National Society pointed out that information distribution to non-professionals regarding the law needed solid improvement, as many citizens are unaware that they are not allowed to detain and spray pesticides on their gardens.
Another important concern was shared among the speakers regarding the need for a change in perception regarding nature in cities, and how to make people accept that public spaces can be nice while greener, even with self-propagating plants. Joël Labbé recognized graveyards were a difficult point when the law passed, and were consequently left out of the scope of the regulation: it was not considered respectful for the deceased and their families to let self-propagating plants grow in cemeteries. But if green spaces are well-managed and kept beautiful by gardeners, this can help people to accept this change, as shown by the examples of Cathy Biass-Morin, director of the Versailles green spaces management. Mayors also noticed that populations are often shocked upon seeing gardeners wearing protection suits when they have to use pesticides, which could have started a shift towards more tolerance regarding plants in cities. Finally, a piece of positive news: a study released in 2019 showed that people tended to prefer vegetated pavements.
This reunion was a great opportunity to steer positive experiences and have much-needed topical debates, which remind us the importance of gathering and listening to each other’s points of view in order to move forward. As PAN Europe, linking those national initiatives to the current European context gives us hope that the Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides - especially article 12 - could be modified, so as to permanently ban pesticides in specific areas to protect vulnerable citizens, as well as agricultural workers or hobby gardeners.
Next step : making European public spaces pesticide free !
Matthieu Orphelin (Maine-et-Loire representative at the National Assembly), Jonathan Flandin (Regional Agency for Biodiversity, Ile-de-France), Jonathan Bourdeau-Garrel (Ecophyto JEVI officer, France Nature Environnement Centre - Val de Loire), Stéphane d’Halluin (sustainable development manager, Botanic), Jean-Marc Muller (vice-president of the Horticulture National Society), Cathy Biass-Morin (Green spaces management director, Versailles), Valérie Poilane-Tabart (Mayor of Laurenan, Brittany), Bertrand Martin (Garden management deputy director, Rennes), Florence Presson (deputy mayor of Sceaux), Catherine Muller (president of the national union of landscaping enterprises, head of Thierry Muller SAS), Anne Haie (Green spaces and biodiversity policy officer, Sequens), Nathalie Devulder (Sustainable Development directo, National Electricity Network), Dominique Janot (head of the Post-Glyphosate Program, Société National des Chemins de Fer), Régine Touffait (secretary general, forests and natural risks direction, Forest National Office), Gaëtan Du Bus (independent forest engineer), François Veillerette (PAN Europe), Paule Yacoub (PAN Europe), Barbara Pompili (Somme representative at the National Assembly).
The French study on the population’s tolerance regarding vegetated streets :
Bonthoux, S., Chollet, S., Balat, I., Legay, N., & Voisin, L. (2019). Improving nature experience in cities: What are people's preferences for vegetated streets?. Journal of environmental management, 230, 335-344.
Rencontre Reporterre sur les pesticides - Cathy Biass-Morin : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DEg1-K8JuY
De cause à effets, le magazine de l’environnement – la voix est libre avec Cathy Biass-Morin : https://www.franceculture.fr/emissions/de-cause-a-effets-le-magazine-de-lenvironnement/la-voix-est-libre-avec-cathy-biass-morin-0
By Paule Yacoub