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Angry farmers from across France rode their tractors into the center of the French capital on Wednesday morning to denounce “restrictions” on their profession – specifically a ban on the use of neonicotinoid insecticides for growing sugar beet.

Thousands of protesters joined the colorful march past the Invalides memorial – not far from the Ministry of Agriculture – before heading to the Porte de Versailles, south of Paris, where the International Agricultural Exhibition will be held in less than a month.

The National Federation of Farmers’ Unions (FNSEA) said at least 500 farmers had arrived on tractors, creating what authorities said was about 420 kilometers of traffic.

Earlier in the day, the Paris police prefecture warned that traffic would be heavily disrupted, advising motorists to avoid the area.

Prohibition of pesticides

The reason for the protest was the government’s decision on January 23 to finally close a loophole that allows sugar beet farmers to continue using harmful neonicotinoids, which have been banned in the EU since 2018.

The move followed a ruling by the European Court of Justice, which ruled that member states lifting the ban were in breach of European law.

France is the world’s second largest producer of sugar beet, an important export that, along with sugar cane, is used to make refined white and brown sugar.

For two years, the government has given sugar beet growers special permission to use neonicotinoids after crops across the country were decimated in 2020 by yellows, a widespread aphid.

Neonicotinoids disrupt the central nervous system of bees, causing memory loss and paralysis, making it impossible for them to return to their hives. Effects on human health have also been documented.

In addition to the ban on neonicotinoids, French farmers are also upset by the increase in production costs associated with the rapid increase in energy prices, as well as the lack of water storage to irrigate crops.

Their last protest was in November 2019, when a thousand tractors performed snail operations on the ring road that surrounds Paris.