France: The decision to withdraw the main uses of S-Metolachlor-based plant protection products questioned by the Government

  March 30, 2023

On Wednesday, February 15, the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) announced that it was withdrawing of the main uses* of S-metolachlor-based plant protection products.

S-metolachlor is the third most sold herbicide substance in France, after glyphosate and prosulfocarb (BNVD Traceability, 2022). Authorized since 2004, it is used in particular on spring crops such as corn, sorghum, soybeans, sunflowers, beets and beans. In June 2022, the European Chemicals Agency’s (ECHA) Risk Assessment Committee classified it as likely to cause cancer.

The duty to preserve the quality of water resources explains the decision. Indeed, in France, the estimated concentrations of the three metabolites, i.e. molecules resulting from the degradation of the substance S-metolachlor, which are metolachlor-ESA, metolachlor-OXA and metolachlor-NOA, in groundwater are above the quality limit set by European legislation. According to data from the Ministry of Health for the year 2020, 1,640,318 people in France have been affected by non-compliance of drinking water related to the presence of ESA-metolachlor.

The withdrawal of the main uses of S-metolachlor-based plant protection products will reduce environmental contamination by this substance and thus help gradually restore the quality of groundwater.

In Luxembourg, where S-metolachlor has been banned since 2015, surface water quality has improved in the following seasons but deep aquifers remain contaminated and their improvement would only start around 2030 (Reboud X., Tysebaert M. & Fayolle B. Alternatives to S-metolachlor and study of their mobilization. INRAE. Septembre 2022).

However, the Minister of Agriculture told the congress of the National Federation of Farmers’ Unions on Thursday, March 30, that he had asked ANSES to re-evaluate its decision, on the grounds that it was “not aligned with the European calendar and that it fell without credible alternatives” (source: AFP).

* The marketing authorization (MA) of a plant protection product issued by ANSES is granted for one or more plant protection uses. A use is defined by an 8-digit code that corresponds, in general, to the combination of a plant species or an agronomic group of plants with a treatment method and a function or a bio-aggressor. The plant protection uses are defined by operating different levels of grouping of crops and/or targets. For example, “Cereals * weed control”.