French farmers drive their tractors on the A4 motorway near Paris to gather in the French capital in protest at pesticide restrictions and other environmental regulations they say are threatening agricultural production, France, February 8, 2023. Image Credit: REUTERS

Paris: French farmers drove hundreds of tractors into Paris on Wednesday to protest against pesticide restrictions and other environmental regulations they say are threatening farm production in the European Union’s largest agricultural power.

The action follows an EU court ruling last month that overturned a French policy allowing sugar beet growers to use an insecticide banned by the EU, raising concern of a further decline in beet plantings and of sugar factory closures.

The sugar beet decision has sharpened discontent among farmers over what they see as excessive pesticide curbs that go against government calls to boost food security in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine.

“Our means of production keep being undermined by prohibitions without solutions,” Jerome Despey, secretary general of the FNSEA, France’s main farming union, told Reuters. “Enough is enough.”

Tractors park in front of the Grand Palais museum, left, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023 in Paris. Image Credit: AP

The FNSEA and other groups organising the protest were expecting 500 tractors and 2,000 farmers from the Paris region to participate.

A long procession of tractors, bearing banners saying “Macron is liquidating agriculture” - in reference to French President Emmanuel Macron - or “Save your farmer”, rolled through central Paris to join a gathering at the Invalides monument, near France’s agriculture ministry.

Environmental activists say pesticide residues damage soils and wildlife and they have welcomed the EU ruling against the use of sugar beet seeds treated with neonicotinoid insecticides that can harm bees.

“Biodiversity, indispensable for life on earth and farming, must not be sacrificed,” anti-pesticide group Generations Futures said in a statement supporting the neonicotinoid ban.

Farmers arrive with tractors at the Esplanades des Invalides during a demonstration organised by unions including FNSEA (National Federation of Farmers Union), against "obligations" in agriculture, in particular restrictions on the use of pesticides, in Paris, on February 8, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

Farmers argue that sugar beet plants do not attract bees and that the ban leaves them exposed to crop disease virus yellows, raising the prospect of lower production and more imports from countries that allow neonicotinoids.

French Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau will present a plan to representatives of the sugar beet sector on Thursday, the agriculture ministry said in a statement after Fesneau met farm unions on Wednesday morning.

Sugar beet growers group CGB said the minister had agreed that sugar beet growers would be compensated fully for yield losses this year if there was a severe attack of virus yellows.

“We can’t be satisfied but for now this should let farmers plant and allow other solutions to be found for 2024 and 2025,” Franck Sander, the CGB’s president, told Reuters at the protest.