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LARGE FORMAT. In the countryside, pesticides poison relations between residents and farmers

VSand that afternoon, Julie * had decided to take advantage of the good weather to taste outside with her children. The thirties live in a small village near Metz (Moselle). His house is in “five-six meters” cereal fields. For several years, she tries to find a compromise with the neighboring farmer and asks him to prevent it by SMS when he comes to spread these pesticides that worry him so much. But that day in August 2019, the tractor tumbles again without warning. “So I signaled to him my presence and I photographed him for proof of his passing”says the young woman. The man gets off his craft, furious. “He insulted me, told me to go to town if I was not happy, that I was just a whore, that he was going to put me a 'gypsy camp' here. in front of my 3 and 1 year old kids “Julie breathes.

Other place, same tension. In Charente, Fabien, a 26-year-old farmer, “sulfate” his vineyards “next to a house where they (L)'bother all the time'. There is no wind at the beginning of June 2018 and it uses a device equipped with recovery panels to limit the dispersion of its product. Insufficient for his neighbor, who is waiting at the end of the plot. On the video he sent us, the farmer goes to meet him. “There is a problem ?” he starts, the phone in his hand. “Yes, there is a problem, before you warned us and there, you do not warn us more.We have been in the house for thirty-five years, there were no vines (…) I want you respect, but respect us “the riverine plague, tight jaws, black eyes. After ten minutes of lively exchange, the tone eventually drops. Till next time. “We'll have to take out the weapons”continues Fabien, who plans to take a wrench with him in the tractor cab to defend himself. Farmers have already been attacked this year, in Ain and in Charente Maritime, for spreading pesticides.

These two skirmishes illustrate how pesticides poison the relations between farmers and the residents of their fields. The former defend their way of working and their income, the latter worry about their health and the environment, especially insects. The controversy fascinates: like Julie and Fabien, more than 600 people responded to our call for testimonials launched with “Special Envoy”, which airs Thursday, October 24 a report on “the fields of anger”.

Houses surrounded by fields in the Hauts-de-France. (JESSICA KOMGUEN / FRANCEINFO)

“Ten meters, it's fucking mouth”

TheThe spark was lit on May 18 by Daniel Cueff, mayor of Langouët (Ille-et-Vilaine). “We can not wait for a law that never happens”, said the convinced ecologist, banning the use of plant protection products within 150 m of any home. Mediatized, his symbolic gesture – the decree was suspended by justice – inspired a hundred French municipalities, which you will find here. He received unexpected support from the State Council. Seized by environmental NGOs, the latter canceled on June 26 several provisions of the general text on the use of pesticides, “because it does not provide any general measure to protect residents of agricultural areas treated.” The state, which had already taken measures in 2014 for schools and recreation centers, had to react. The government has proposed to fix at 5 meters, for low crops such as cereals, and at 10 meters for high crops the minimum distance with dwellings, with possible derogations from the department.

A measure deemed insufficient by a large majority of residents who responded to our call for evidence. “It's fucking mouth”, Sandrine cingle, 42 years old. This specialized educator lives among vineyards, in a house built in 1789, in the Entre-deux-Mers, a wine region nestled between the Dordogne and the Garonne. “The cloud of pesticides, it is not the 10 meters that will change much”, said this mother of two little girls. She remembers with precision the taste of “Bubblegum” who invaded the atmosphere one day when she was having lunch outside. “I was full of it, I did not know what I was eating”, she says. Exchanges with the winemaker, who treated them “green migrants”, have gone short. However, she was able to obtain the names of the products used by the latter: Folpel fungicides, “harmful by inhalation” and “Suspected of causing cancer”, and Profiler, dangerous for aquatic environments and for the eyes, according to'National Research and Safety Institute for the Prevention of Accidents at Work and Occupational Diseases (INRS).

I'm scared for my two little girls. For now, they have nothing, but I touch wood. My big fear is that it triggers something, a hormonal imbalance.

Sandrine, neighbor of a vineyard

Marie *, 48, no longer believes in the limits proposed by the government. She lives in the Lot-et-Garonne, in a house surrounded by apple orchards. Trees that require “weekly treatments from April to September”. “When the farmers come, they are dressed as cosmonauts, with a gas mask on their faces, we are in the garden, in a swimsuit, with the children”, she testifies. This financial director criticizes the blowing equipment used to reach all branches – “It's not 'I drop the product', it's 'I project'”, she says. It also points to the fact that it is sometimes recommended for some products not to work in the orchard for 48 hours after application. “But we live in the plot”she says, adding that the orchards extend on all four sides of her land.

Defending everything “Agribashing”, she denounces a regulation “excessively light” and regrets that the burden of proof – an impregnation study to measure pesticide exposure – is based on it. Marie also accuses the authorities of lacking the will to enforce the few existing limits, such as the one that forbids spreading when the wind is greater than 3 on the Beaufort scale (more than 19 km / h). “I have tried to file a complaint, it is never followed by effect.I never have a receipt, the gendarmes fail to qualify my complaint while I come with the texts of law”she grieves.

This non-compliance with the rules on the wind came back in many testimonies. Elodie, 32, sent us a video, shot from her home, showing a tractor spraying a product – which may not be a pesticide – while the wind is waving the branches of nearby trees. “I pointed it out to him, he did not dispute but he did not recognize it either.He told me that he could not work anymore, that I wanted to live in the country without hearing the sound of cock”recalls this consultant from Loire-Atlantique. Xavier, a 37-year-old farmer from Ardenne, acknowledges that “it's not controlled, the wind”. “It happens to me to get up, to see that there is no wind, to make 5 km, to arrive at the top of the coast and there, shit, there is a little wind. is difficult to apply “, he testifies, before nuance: “These products are expensive, I do not see the point of spraying in the wind.”

Former policeman, Thierry, 58, has also found in his village of Morbihan spraying in windy weather. But not only. “They spread out flush with streams and ditches, which is strictly forbidden”, he recalls. A prefectural decree of 2017 provides for the observation of a non-treatment zone (ZNT) of 5 meters around watercourses and 1 meter around ditches. These bans aim to protect the quality of drinking water, while, as our map shows, 198 French municipalities have problems with pesticide contamination. This is not the case with Thierry's, but he ensures that “this non-respect of the conditions of employment is general”. Suspicious, he suspects his neighbors spreading early in the morning or late at night “to escape the controls”.

A farmer watches a
Farmer looks to burn “fire of anger” to protest spreading distances on September 23, 2019. (IDRISS BIGOU-GILLES / HANS LUCAS / AFP)

“I am judged by people who know nothing about it”

VSThis suspicion illustrates the gap of misunderstanding that separates residents and farmers. David, a farmer in Ille-et-Vilaine who grows conventional cereals and produces organic milk, claims to be the victim of “gossip”. Some accuse him of working at night because he would use “prohibited substances”. “I'm judging by people who know nothing about it”he regrets, before explaining why this technique makes it possible to use fewer pesticides. “At night, when the plants breathe with dew, the stomata are fully opened and absorb more of the product, so it can be treated with 1 / 10th of the prescribed dose.”

Located on the outskirts of Rennes, he does not count the insults and obscene gestures on the passage of his sprayer, which did not even contain pesticides. In 2012, “A car got in my way and the guy started insulting me, cowboy way, to call me a polluter, to ask me if I was not ashamed.”says David. That day, he was preparing to spread two liters per hectare of … Coca-Cola: “I do not have the right to say it because it is not tested as agricultural material, but I put a little sucrose to strengthen the plant”, explains the one who also uses vinegar solutions “that we find in the kitchens of each of us”.

In the Marne, Philippe, 30, also regrets this lack of knowledge about the working conditions of farmers. For example, it considers it unrealistic to warn residents of the date of each application and the products used to limit their exposure. “The decision to treat, I take it sometimes Sunday evening at 8 pm for Monday morning 6 am because I see that the weather conditions are favorable”he justifies. The young man insists on the quality of the material used to avoid the dispersion of the products.

When I treat my wheat with weedkiller, I have beets at 20 centimeters and they are not affected by the product I put.

Philippe, farmer

For most of the farmers interviewed, these tensions can also be explained by a biased media treatment and by the arrival of new inhabitants in the countryside, driven by the construction of housing estates on former farmland sold by farmers or their families. heirs. Florian, 35, tells how houses have grown to 10 meters from his vineyards, operated by his family since 1924 in Bordeaux. “These people who come from the city, without questioning us, directly, they attack us.They tell us: 'What you tell me, I do not want to know, for me there is only internet and TV “, testifies the winemaker, very angry against the show “Cash Investigation” of January 2016, he deems dependent. “What's annoying is that people have a priori, complete Wilfrid, 59, farmer in the Drôme. They go too much on social networks and rely on them instead of listening to professionals. “

Above all, the farmers assure to have much safer practices than their foreign counterparts and consider that the general public exaggerates the dangerousness of the phytosanitary products, the “medicines for plants” according to the formula repeated at the envi. Olivier, a 50-year-old Girondin winemaker, offers another analogy: “It's like tobacco, it can trigger diseases, it may not do (…) but when you look at things calmly, there is no epidemic, people do not fall like flies at after twenty years of practice. “

This argument of farmers' health often comes up in conversations. It is based on a study (in English) published in 2017 on the Agrican cohort, composed of 180,000 members of the Mutuelle sociale agricole. “There was no difference in the incidence of cancer between cohort members and the general population, however, risk among farm owners (not counting farm workers) has been reduced for both sexes “can we read there.

The medical certificate & nbsp; made by an urologist to Claude's wife to allow him to move faster, July 10, 2019.
The medical certificate made by an urologist to Claude's wife to allow him to move faster, July 10, 2019. (JESSICA KOMGUEN / FRANCEINFO)

Suspected links with several types of cancer

MBut this study can not be summed up in this single conclusion. “It has been confirmed that there are many more prostate cancers in agriculture, which seems to be linked to the use of pesticides in certain sectors, but also to insecticides on animals, especially in cattle farms”, explained in October 2018 one of its authors at Parisian. Other cancers, such as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL), affect farmers more. This information is not new. In collective expertise published in 2013the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) had already “strong presumption” a link between the use of pesticides and the occurrence of NHL, prostate cancer, multiple myeloma and Parkinson's disease. It also associated the use of these products during the pregnancy of women farmers with developmental disorders of the child: leukemias, brain tumors, congenital malformations.

On these malformations, Inserm concludes that “average presumption” linkage with pesticides for home-exposed populations, due to their domestic use (insecticides) or their proximity to crops. A risk little discussed in this synthesis, and for good reason: “There is currently little data in France on the exposure of the general population, living both in rural and urban areas, its different sources and determinants”, regretted Inserm in 2013, before recommending “measurement campaigns”.

Six years later, there is not much more French data, if not a study In progress on national air quality. As a result, when the government asked the National Agency for Food Safety, Environment and Labor (ANSES) to propose a spreading distance limit, the organization delivered an opinion based on studies conducted in Belgium and the UK as well as on top pesticide measures carried out in the city center of Reims. The Belgian study notes that the model of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) used by ANSES “does not allow to calculate risks beyond 10 meters whereas the results obtained demonstrate the presence of PPP (plant protection products) in ambient air and their deposition at distances up to 50 meters “.

Protesters protest against the use of pesticides in the vineyards, December 4, 2016 in Avensan (Gironde).
Protesters protest against the use of pesticides in the vineyards, December 4, 2016 in Avensan (Gironde). (MEHDI FEDOUACH / AFP)

“Residents do not want to talk about it too much”, regrets Edmond, 72, while evoking a study a little unnoticed led by France Nature Environnement association near Montauban (Tarn-et-Garonne) and concluding that there is a high risk of cancer for riparian residents. This retired doctor lives on the edge of the fields, in a village in the agglomeration of Tourcoing (North). In August 2018, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). “I tend to make the link between my thirty-eight years of presence here and my lymphoma. an agricultural occupational disease, he recalls. I went to see my neighbor to tell him, he did as if he did not know. It did not make him hot or cold. “

It must be said that Edmond, who is now a campaigner for the antipesticide NGO Future Generations, has condemned this farmer for an episode of particularly acute pollution in 2014, which had caused the death of his cat. He is hesitating today to start a new legal action for his illness, this time against the State. “I am not recognized as a collateral victim of pesticides, it's hard to swallow”the pensioner squeaks, writing to the ministers of agriculture, ecological transition and health to ask for a 100-meter no-treatment zone around the homes.

As a doctor, I find the silence of the health authorities absolutely unworthy.

Edmond, bordering a field

Christophe suspects too “Heavily” pesticides to be at the origin of the health concerns of his family. “I'm going to be honest with you, I realize that I'm getting worse and worse and the tractors are getting bigger and bigger, the spreaders are bigger and bigger”, sums up this 46-year-old Berrichon. First there is his grandfather, who lived in the same house, in Cher, who died of prostate cancer. Then there is his son, born in 2010 with a small hole at the bottom of the spine. And then his mastiff Bordeaux, paralyzed at the age of 8 years without the veterinarian can find an explanation. There is finally his carcinoma – a type of cancer – which deprived him of two fingers and “more than half” right hand in 2016, neurological disorders and brain stains. “In the hospital, I was asked if I had worked with toxic products”, says this car salesman.

This question, an urologist from Bordeaux asked Claude's wife, a victim of repeated polyps – benign tumors – bladder since its installation in a wine village. “He said to her, 'Statistically, your case does not exist, it would have to be 70, she's only 57, she's a big smoker, she's never smoked, she worked in a toxic environment, she was a caregiver at the CHU “, enumerates the husband, who expresses himself in the place of his spouse, too marked to speak to us.

So, the doctor does “his doctor House”, ask where they live, in what environment. “He said to us, 'Do not look, these are the pesticides.' We have fallen from our chair, here there is a kind of omerta and denial.”recalls the sociologist by profession. This hypothesis, the urologist will never formulate in writing. But, to allow the couple to move faster by reducing the length of their notice, they sign a medical certificate attesting that “Madame's state of health does not allow her to live next to the vines”.

Vines grown in organic farming, with grass between the rows, on May 30, 2018 in Cabrerolles (Hérault).
Vines grown in organic farming, with grass between the rows, on May 30, 2018 in Cabrerolles (Hérault). (MAXPPP)

“Not everyone will go organic overnight”

ATAntoine also has no doubts about the dangerousness of pesticides. For several years, this farmer from Loiret has been “a little schizophrenic” facing the remarks of the residents of his farm, whose fields surround his village near Pithiviers. “I did not want to say that what I was doing was extremely dangerous, if you read what is written on cans, you can not tell yourself that it is not. conventional farmer, one is obliged to reassure oneself, to say to oneself that it passes “, traces the forty-year-old. However, he was aware of the problem by his family history: his father, a farmer, has an autoimmune disease and lymphoma. “There are so many stories about treatment products, I have an uncle who has had two days of coma after opening a can, sometimes you have to remove the mask to repair the machine, and you have headache for days “he continues.

So, in 2016, this grain farmer who farms 160 hectares decides to start his organic conversion. First “Selfishly”because he fears for his health. But also because he does not want to be the one “which brings diseases of the immune system to (his) neighbors”. The investment is consequent: 150 000 euros to buy a sorter, a weeder and a weeder harrow for weeding. His neighbors are delighted, his colleagues a little less.

The other day, I was called “bugger peasant bio”. For them, it is we who pollute because we bring back weeds.

Antoine, farmer

Tempted also by a conversion to bio, Xavier, our farmer Ardennes, however wishes to deliver “the most realistic message possible”. “The farming population is ready to make an effort, but not everyone will go organic in a day and go to weed fields differently than with products, it's complicated”, he recalls. You have to invest in equipment or hire seasonal workers. Other farmers interviewed by Franceinfo have put in place less expensive solutions to limit friction with residents: in Bordeaux, Florian will make the effort to send SMS to all its neighbors to prevent each treatment. A few kilometers later, Olivier tore up the rows of vines that were 3 meters from the home of a maternal assistant. “When there are children in the garden, it is difficult to treat, I prefer to anticipate the worries”he justifies.

A retired winemaker, Michel observes with spite the debate around the spreading zones. As early as the 1990s, as housing estates grew around the vineyards, he was tempted to give warning. “I always told the town hall that there would be problems with the pesticides, that it was necessary to impose a wall or a hedge to the promoters.They replied: 'But no, you're in for nothing' “, he testifies, before questioning himself aloud: “What did I miss? So I'm responsible to everyone, so I did everything I could to stop it.”

* The first names have been changed at the request of the interested parties.

Text: Thomas Baïetto
Graphics: Jessica Komguen

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