French Authorities Ban Pesticide Gaucho

French Farm Minister Jean Glavany has extended for two years the suspension on the use of Gaucho on sunflower seeds, imposed in January 1999, in line with the government's "principle of precaution". Glavany called for a full study into the possible causes of a sharp drop in France's bee population. Glavany also asked the ministry's Toxicology Commission to report as soon as possible on the potential impact of Gaucho residue in soil. The pesticide is used by wheat, barley, maize and sugar beet growers to protect against parasites.

Honey producers say Gaucho has damaged bee swarms by making plants toxic. Keepers say bees have become disoriented and unable to return to their hives, prompting them to dub the problem "mad bee disease". According to the National Union of French Beekeepers, the number of hives in France has plummeted to one million from 1.45 million in 1996. Bayer has said that Gaucho leaves a small residue in nectar and pollen, but not nearly in the quantities required to have an impact on bees. The company sells the product in 70 countries.

French farm union Confederation Paysanne on Tuesday slammed the government for failing to ban Gaucho's active ingredient, imidaclopride, a chemical which acts on the nervous systems of a variety of pests including wireworm. It called on the Toxicology Commission, which is due to meet on February 14, to recommend a full ban on the ingredient. The union also urged farmers to boycott imidaclopride and fipronil, the ingredient present in the pesticide Regent produced by European chemicals giant Aventis .

Both Gaucho and Regent are used to coat seeds at the time of sowing, but systemic pesticides such as Gaucho are spread via the sap into the plant while non-systemic pesticides like Regent do not reach the upper areas of the plan.