EU urged to ban pesticides with negative health effects

The EU must make the removal of carcinogens, neurotoxins and endocrine disruptors from pesticides on the European market a political priority, warns Jacky Ferrand

By Jacky Ferrand

31 Mar 2014

Photo above: Frédéric Ferrand at his vineyard before his death from cancer of the bladder in 2012

My son, Frédéric Ferrand grew vines in Charente. He produced grapes for cognac. But at the age of 41, he developed bladder cancer. It was a blow. His twins were only 5 years old. I was with him at the hospital when his doctor told him the news. The doctor said: "Yet another case. Monsieur, you have the vine grower's cancer." I was immediately reminded that Frédéric used to vomit after preparing chemical treatments that he used on the vines. After his death, I brought together 20 years' worth of bills and Dr Ben Brick, an occupational specialist at the university hospital in Poitiers, found that not a single chemical product that Frédéric had used was free of carcinogens.

On 27 March 2014, I was one of three French representatives of l'association phyto-victimes (victims of pesticides), who came to Brussels to ask the representatives of the European commission to require manufacturers to remove harmful chemicals from the market. We attended a film screening and debate in the European parliament.

The film, 'La mort est dans le pré' (Death is in the meadows) gives the perspective of a series of farming families on how pesticides affect their health and the consequences on the lives of those around them. The event was organised as part of the ninth pesticide action week by three non-governmental organisations: the health and environment alliance (HEAL), Générations Futures (France), pesticide action network Europe (PAN). It was hosted by MEP Hiltrud Breyer.

It is always difficult to watch the film because Frédéric appears in it. I also took part in this film as did two other members of the association phyto-victimes - a professional association working to defend victims of pesticides.

"Pesticides are causing havoc by affecting the health and lives of many farming families in France"

Paul Francis, president of the association, has serious health problems. Miraculously, he was able to prove in a lawsuit against Monsanto in 2012 that his intoxication was due to a pesticide called Lasso - a product that was withdrawn from the market in France in 2007.

In April 2004, Paul Francis went to clean the tank sprayer that he thought was empty. When he opened the cap, noxious fumes of some remaining pesticides escaped and he unfortunately breathed them in. He was immediately admitted to hospital, where he fell into a coma several times. Since then, the disease continues to affect his kidneys and nervous system.

The third member of the pesticide victims association in Brussels was vice-president Caroline Chenet-Lis. She was the narrator in the film, which recounts the death of her husband due to leukaemia caused by pesticides. "Just like Paul, I am a victim of pesticides," she said. "We all know that what we want is better protection of the health of farmers and other professionals."

Caroline said in Brussels that it was crazy to wait for proof that pesticides were causing cancers and other diseases when we already know that these products are killing fish and animals, and affecting their ability to reproduce. She said: "The EU policy must change - we do not want to wait for the proof."

Pesticides are causing havoc by affecting the health and lives of many farming families in France. Figures from the cooperative insurance of farmers (MSA) show that more than 40 agricultural workers in France have had their cases of chronic disease, including leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma, and Parkinson's disease, recognised as occupational diseases due to acute or chronic exposure to pesticides.

France is the largest agricultural producer in Europe, and it is also the largest user of pesticides by volume. Globally, only India and the United States use more - they also have much larger populations.

Our association wants to see a rapid and definitive removal of carcinogens, neurotoxins and endocrine disruptors from the market in Europe. We want health studies of past and current users, and independent testing of these products which takes into account their long-term effects. These changes are necessary to allow agriculture to become healthy - not only in France but throughout Europe.

In closing the discussion after the film, Paul Francis told the meeting in the European parliament of about 80 people that we owe it to the next generation to change. He said: "We often talk about the economic debt that we owe to the next generation, but the debt of the abuse of natural resources, such as water pollution by pesticides and the use of chemicals, is outrageous. Worse still - criminal even - is the fact that exposure to endocrine disruptors may affect the health potential of people even before they are born. We must stop it now."