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French town bans pesticides on vineyards located near homes due to rise in child cancers

French vineyards

(NaturalNews) The southern French town of Saint-Jean, located near the city of Toulouse, has passed a law banning the use of pesticides within 50 meters (160 feet) of homes, in the face of concern over rising rates of childhood cancer in the country's agricultural regions.

As the town is surrounded by farms, the ban is more than just a symbolic gesture.

"Research shows that people living near areas where pesticides are used are more affected by some diseases: endocrinal hormone disruption, diabetes and obesity, hormone-dependent cancers, cancer of the blood, male and female fertility problems and birth defects," said Gerard Bapt, a medical doctor, the deputy mayor of the town, and the major force behind the ban.

Taking action to stop poisoning of children

Saint-Jen has also banned the use of herbicides in any ditches that collect rainwater, as a way of protecting local water supplies.

But according to Bapt, legislative bans on their own will not be enough to protect people's health.

"We must change farming practices and use organic methods and crop rotation," he said.

Bapt points to studies showing unusually high rates of cancer in wine growing regions such as Bordeaux. And an abnormally high number of cancers have been found among children who attend a school in Villeneuve-de-Blaye that sits beside a vineyard.

Bapt says that farmers in Saint-Jen have not been careful about their practices.

"Recently pesticides were sprayed next to homes where vulnerable people such as pregnant women or young children might have been exposed," he said. "The pesticides used are found in water, with traces of pesticides in nine out of 10 rivers and streams in France."

Some of the farmers affected by the ban have threatened to sue to overturn it.

The Saint-Jen ban is part of a larger debate taking place nationwide. France is either Europe's first or second largest user of pesticides, depending on the source. Of the 60,000 tons of poisonous chemicals sprayed on French crops each year, about a fifth is applied to vineyards — although grapes comprise only three percent of the country's agricultural acreage.

These figures, and mounting evidence of harm being done to nearby communities, has led to formation of residents associations in Bordeaux that lobby winegrowers to reduce their chemical usage.

In response, the Bordeaux Winegrowers' Committee has said it will urge members to use fewer pesticides. The French government has also committed to cut nationwide pesticide use by half between 2008 and 2018. But the government admits that from 2008 to 2010, pesticide use for only four percent — far below the level needed to meet the 2018 target.

Courts doubling down on pesticide companies

French citizens are also taking to the courts to challenge the pesticide companies' poisoning of their communities. In fact, it is farmers themselves behind many of these efforts.

In February, a French court found Monsanto guilty of poisoning a farmer named Paul Francois by not providing proper use instructions for its Lasso herbicide. Francois therefore did not apply the chemical properly and was exposed to toxic levels causing neurological problems including headaches, stammering and memory loss.

Now a French criminal court is investigating whether pesticide producers are guilty of manslaughter in the death of a Bordeaux wine grower, James-Bernard Murat, following 40 years of exposure to pesticides containing sodium arsenate, which was known to be hazardous as far back as 1955.

His daughter, Valerie Murat, said that her father's death would set an even more significant precedent than the Francois decision because Francois' death was "an accident, whereas my father's death was due to the chronic use of grape pesticides over 40 years. Yet he only used these three times a year. The companies have always sworn that chronic inhalation in 'homoeopathic doses' posed no danger to human health. The inquiry will determine who was right and who was lying."

The court's willingness to take up the case could open the floodgates to hundreds of other prosecutions and lawsuits against pesticide companies, Murat's lawyers have said.

Sources for this article include:

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