When the discussion on organic growing in horticulture often revolves in a soil-or-no-soil-talk, the French choose to not participate in this discussion. The French organisation SIA revealed a growing number of productions with the labels “cultivated without pesticides” or “no residue”.
Last year, the first steps of the approach were starting to emerge, especially with the “zero pesticide residue” label, initiated by Les Paysans de Rougeline (southwestern France) and the national collective Nouveaux Champs, as well as the “without pesticide, 100% natural” label of the Breton cooperatives Savéol, Prince de Bretagne and Solarenn. Today, the phenomenon is gaining in speed; Bonduelle recently launched a campaign to promote its commitment to the “no pesticide residue” movement. This approach uses the “quantifiable limit” of residues to validate the absence of active substances. While this does not guarantee the total absence of pesticides, it means that they will be inferior to what technical analyses would be able to quantify, up to “ten to a thousand times inferior to the maximum residue limits, set for commercialization,” explains Gilles Bertrandias, president of the Nouveaux Champs collective.
Among these increasingly popular labels, a new one has emerged: “cultivated without pesticides”, which is more focused on the effects on the environment. On February 25th, the Breton cooperatives Prince de Bretagne, Solarenn and Savéol announced a “unified approach” for productions “cultivated without pesticides”, first applied to tomatoes grown in greenhouses. 196,000 tons of tomatoes per year should carry the label, which is “30 to 40% in the medium term,” explained Pierre-Yves Jestin, president of Savéol. From 2019, 176 of the 208 producers of the three brands will label their tomatoes, and extending the approach to other vegetables, such as the cucumber, is already envisaged.
But there's more...
The association of producers Demain La Terre adopted another approach, playing on both sides: “no pesticide residue detected” and “cultivated without synthetic pesticides”. Both criteria will be optional for the 13 member companies, which will be able to “submit a variable part of their volumes” to one criterion or the other, clarified Marc de Nale, director of Demain La Terre.
"It's not organic"
Environmental associations have pointed out that these labels are not as good as the organic label. FNH, Greenpeace and Générations Futures, among others, had already issued a statement questioning the “zero pesticide residue” label. “We are more favorable to a focus on means - not using synthetic pesticides - rather than a focus on the result,” declares Claudine Joly, in charge of pesticide issues at France Nature Environnement. “The ‘no pesticide residue’ approach will most likely lead to some positive changes in production methods, but it is not sufficient, when it comes to the impact on the natural environment.” In any case, these approaches should only be another “step towards not using synthetic pesticides at all in agriculture.” According to Claudine Joly, “the zero-pesticide residue label just isn’t as good as the organic label.”
It remains to be seen how the consumer will make sense of all those labels. Professionals intend to finalize a “guide of good practices” by the end of June, in order to frame the use of these labels as a driving force of the consumption of fruits and vegetables.