Cancer rates in California for children are: Napa in first place and Sonoma tied for third position. (www.kidsdata.org/cancer)
France is the biggest pesticides user in the European Union with French farms and vineyards spraying 65,000 tonnes of pesticide a year, much of which is noxious to humans, the environment and particularly dangerous to foetuses and young children, a France2 TV documentary has revealed.
“Cash Investigation. Produits chimiques, nos enfants en danger“, a two-hour long documentary directed by Martin Boudot and that was a year in the making, was screened on Tuesday February 2 on France 2. It makes for gripping and shocking viewing. It is available for a limited time on France 2’s watch again facility here.
The documentary draws direct links between the ongoing use of pesticides (and their longtail presence in the soil, the air and the water tables of France), with an officially documented rise in rates of childhood cancer, autistic children and other anomalies which it attributes to active compounds in pesticides. Some of these compounds, the documentary claims, are classified by the French agriculture department as CMR – cancérogène, mutagène and reprotoxique (carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic) but remain widely used by French agriculture.
A report in 20minutes noted that various tests by consumer bodies and monitoring authorities have at various times recently shown that French strawberries, peaces, apples, vegetables and pulses such as lentils and dried peas and lettuce were all above acceptable norms for traces of pesticides found in them.
The programme makers focused their investigation on four of the Big 6 chemical companies whose worldwide business is worth €50 billion a year, singling out Syngenta, based in Switzerland, Monsanto and Dow, based in the US and Bayer, based in Germany.
The map (top) used a five-year-range of leaked data starting from 2008 the France 2 team had gathered during their year-long investigation. The team and its number crunchers turned the data into the map shown. The documentary says it reflects the areas of the country with the highest levels of intensive pesticide use – black being the worst.
Of the total 65,000 tonnes of pesticide it reports are sprayed countrywide, 3,320 tons are used annually in France’s top wine producing region, the Gironde département, home to world famous Bordeaux wines and many well-known caves and expensive labels.
As Wikpedia notes: “The wine regions of Bordeaux lie within the overarching wine region centred on the city of Bordeaux and covering the whole of the Gironde department in Aquitaine”.
The results presented in their investigation into the state of the country’s air, water and soil pollution, emerged thanks to a considerable financial and journalistic commitment.
This included a France 2 TV team travelling around France, and to Switzerland, Belgium, Germany and the US in search of clarification about the toxicity of pesticides used in France, their impact on the health of foetuses, babies and young children exposed to them, and answers (or non-answers) from senior executives at some of the chemical giants regarding risks associated with their pesticides.
In the Gironde the team noted, vineyards sprayed with dangerous pesticides abut schools and homes and the producers interviewed worried families who no longer drink from the local water supply and are demanding a clear buffer zone be created between vineyards and houses and schools.
The France 2 team looked at the reported rising incidence of autism and attention deficit syndrome among French youngsters in rural areas and linked this to reputable research studies done in France and in the US on the effects of folpel (as it is called in France) or phthalimide — marketed by Bayer, atrazine — marketed by Syngenta and chlorpyrifos-éthyl — made by Dow Chemical.
A follow-up piece published by SudQuest France newspaper noted:
“Since 1980, childhood cancer, the second cause of death in children, has increased at a rate of 1% a year in France (2,500 extra cases each year). Birth defects, hormonal disorders and autism are also on the rise.
A separate report here noted:”At end December 2015, the Libourne prosecutor opened a judicial investigation over ‘improper use of pharmaceutical products’, after pesticides spread on vines located near the Villeneuve-de-Blaye primary school on 5 May 2014, provoked violent sickness among 23 pupils and a teacher at the school.
“Scientists around the world have established a link between these very different diseases and exposure to chemicals, including pesticides. Some of these chemicals are carcinogens, mutagens, reproductive toxins (causing infertility) or are neurotoxic. In France’s top region producing AOC (Denomination of Origin) wines, 132 schools are classified as “sensitive” because of their proximity to vineyards where dangerous pesticides are applied.
“In the wake of an investigation known as Apache — agricultural pesticide analysis in hair– ‘Exposure to pesticides in vineyards employees and residents in the heart of Bordeaux vineyards’ in Listrac-Médoc, published in 2013 by the Future Generations Association, journalists have taken samples to be analysed by a state laboratory in Luxembourg. The hair samples were taken from 20 children attending four Gironde primary schools so as to determine their exposure to certain active ingredients in pesticides. The laboratory tests showed traces of up to 44 pesticides in the children.
“Standing in front of the map of France produced by “Cash investigation” showing the blackest spots, département by département, where the most dangerous pesticide consumption was recorded, and where the Gironde tops the list, Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll told the documentary’s presenter Elise Lucet: ‘I am fully aware that this is a time bomb, a danger to health, to the environment and perhaps even to the economy’. He added in 2008 government unveiled it Ecophyto programme which aims to cut pesticide use by 50% by 2025″.
The TV team went to considerable lengths to confront four of the Big 6 with their findings and concerns. At one stage after Bayer refused to respond to their questions, they bought shares in the company and attended its AGM in Germany. When the reporter introduced herself and asked if she could raise a question in French or English the meeting chairman ruled that only questions in German were acceptable. The reporter had anticipated this and had arranged for her questions to be translated in advance so she could then play them out over the meeting loudspeaker!
Founded in 1964, the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) is a public scientific and technological institute and has published a list of all pesticides in use in France.
According to its records the active ingredient folpel (or phthalimide) is considered in Europe to be a cancer causing agent. Bayer is the biggest marketer of pesticides in France and pesticides containing the active ingredient folpel (phthalimide) are its best sellers. It is found almost everywhere in France. Fifteen of 20 French regions have reported traces of folpel in the soil and water tables. Three thousand tonnes of folpel are sold in France annually.
An anonymous source within Bayer France told the team folpel is not meant to be sold in France which uses 5600 tonnes of CMR pesticides a year. At the Bayer AGM the TV team attended it managed to speak with Liam Condon, a member of the Bayer AG Board of Management and head of its Crop Science Division. Asked about the danger of Bayer pesticides to children he said: “our products are never used and should never be used near children. If the dose on the label of our products is obeyed they are not dangerous”. He did not respond when the reporters noted that 680 Bayer products have been banned in France because they had been found to be dangerous.
But, the documentary went on: “We found that even when these pesticides are banned from sale, traces of them can still be found in water and soil years later. Atrazine has been banned in France for 15 years but still traces are found in water in areas where it was heavily used.”
When a “Cash Investigation” reporter finally managed to put these findings and the results of hair tests which showed three month records of pesticide contamination of the children concerned and carried out in France and in Hawaii, to Michael Mack, Syngenta CEO and executive director from 2008 (until he stepped down on October 31, 2015), his response to a reporter’s concerns about their products was: “We respect the law”. Mack went on to denigrate France for “producing junk science” and insisted the company’s research did not corroborate the French studies. “Don’t talk about French research please, it is not science, its junk science”, he told the France 2 team.
As the blurb that accompanies the documentary notes: “Syngenta, Monsanto, Bayer and Dow are multinationals manufacturing agrochemical pesticides used in agriculture. The residues of their products are found in food, in tap water and even in the air we breathe. Some are carcinogenic and neurotoxic, others are particularly dangerous for children. “Cash Investigation” had access to a confidential database on pesticide sales in France, product by product, département by département, between 2008 and 2013. On average, nearly 65,000 tonnes of pure pesticides are applied every year in France which today is the largest consumer of pesticides in all Europe.
“Since 1980, childhood cancer has increased by 1% per year in France, approximately 2,500 additional cases each year. This is the second cause of death in children. Is there a link between these diseases and exposure to pesticides? For scientists around the world, there is little doubt.
“Folpet is produced by Bayer, atrazine by Syngenta and chlorpyrifos-ethyl by Dow Chemical. These active ingredients have proven health risks but make billions of euros for these multinationals. After a year of investigation in France, Germany, Switzerland and the United States, “Cash Investigation” reveals how some of these products put our children in danger.”
The SudQuest France newspaper which sells widely in the Gironde and Bordeaux areas, gave a detailed account of the findings of the documentary:
“Pesticide use is controversial. Gironde, the Landes and Charente are the heaviest users of pesticides in the country. But how many tons of such poisons are sold each year in France? And what active ingredients leave their traces in the soil, water, wine, agricultural products, food and atmosphere? Which French départements are most heavily exposed to the health risks of these chemicals?
“Difficult to know: much of the confidential data is inaccessible to the average citizen. ‘Cash Investigation’ however managed to obtain access and went on a year-long investigation across France, Germany, Switzerland and the United States.
“The result of this hard-hitting report: ‘Chemicals, our children in danger,’ a documentary by Martin Boudot and Elise Lucet, was broadcast on Tuesday February 2 on France 2.
“After months of work, the team finally obtained the unpublished numbers on pesticide sales in France. First lesson: on average, nearly 65,000 tons of pesticides are used each year in France including huge quantities that are particularly dangerous for health.
“Among the affected départements are the Gironde, the top AOC wine region in France which is classified as a black spot, along with Marne, Aube and Loire-Atlantique. The Landes, Charente, the Eure-et-Loir and the Pas-de-Calais are red spots.
The same paper then followed up with official and other reactions:”In the France 2 report – watched by 3.12 million viewers (a 13.2% audience share), according 20minutes.fr — we learned that the Gironde is one of the worst affected areas of the country alongside the Marne, Aube and Loire-Atlantique.
“In response to the report shown last Tuesday Ségolène Royal Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, told France Inter, of the ‘trouble’ she had had when it came to banning the aerial application of pesticides as well as their use ‘in green spaces and private gardens from next summer.’ She spoke of the ‘very powerful pesticides manufacturing lobby in France’ and added ‘it is time to stop this. There is much to do (…) and I am delighted that Stéphane Le Foll has undertaken to do so . This is the first time that a minister of agriculture has faced down the pesticides lobby in agriculture.’
“With France ranked as top user of pesticides in Europe Ségolène Royal called for them to be replaced by substitutes: ‘I say to farmers that it is in their interest to reduce use of pesticides. The number of cancers farmers who use pesticides suffer from is alarming and it is clear that today they are becoming more aware of such issues. We now know there are product substitutions for these hazardous pesticides and France, instead of being the top pesticide consumer must become the largest producer and consumer country of substitutes for pesticides that are not harmful to public health. It is a challenge but we must face it,’ the minister added.
“Corinne Lepage, a former environment minister and leader of the Green Party Cap21, recalled that she had unsuccessfully banned atrazine in 1995. ‘The lobbies against such decisions are very powerful,’ she noted.
“The Gironde Farmers Confederation (PSC) welcomed the ‘Cash Investigation’ report which it said ‘confirmed the extremely dangerous nature of many registered pesticides’. It added it was aware that the ‘dangers to the health of children, residents and farmers were concealed. And this merely reflected the impunity of companies in Europe that produce pesticides, as well as the complicity of national and European authorities.’
“According to the PSC, the Minister of Agriculture, Stéphane Le Foll, talks about transparency, ‘but he refuses to disclose pesticide consumption figures, which should be public knowledge’.
“PSC also criticised the Interprofessional Council of Bordeaux Wine (CIVB) saying it was guilty of ‘organized concealment and deliberate lies because it fears the damage that may be done to the image of Bordeaux wines by the pesticide expose.’
“The PSC called for the publication of detailed pesticide consumption figures in the Gironde for the period 2011 to 2015, as well as a ‘full and detailed accounting by the CIVB’.”
Story: Ken Pottinger