France's health safety watchdog Anses ordered a ban on products containing metam sodium, widely used in vegetable farming, on Monday after several people fell ill, saying it poses a risk to human health and the environment.
The discovery of respiratory intoxications in recent weeks among farmers or farm neighbours following the use of metam sodium-based products in western France had prompted the government to temporarily ban its use pending an Anses opinion.
"After reassessment, Anses concludes that all users represent a risk to human health and the environment. Anses has just notified producers of its intention to withdraw the marketing authorisations for all metam sodium products," the watchdog said in a statement.
In 2004, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considered metam sodium as a "probable human carcinogen".
Still, metam sodium is among the most widely used agricultural pesticides in the United States.
In France it can be found in five products, made by Taminco, a subsidiary of Eastman Chemical, Arysta Lifescience, recently acquired by India's UPL, Spain's Lainco and Compo Expert, purchased this year by Grupa Azoty, an Anses website shows.
Officials referred to four cases of intoxication linked to metam sodium in the Maine-et-Loire and Finistere departments but local media reported a total of 70 cases.
France's largest farm union, the FNSEA, condemned the decision.
"The decision to ban metam sodium was taken even before finding an alternative to replace it, leaving farmers without solutions," FNSEA chairwoman Christiane Lambert said on Twitter.
Nearly 700 tonnes of metam sodium are used each year in France to fight fungi and worms, mainly on plants such as corn salads and tomatoes.
Although it is applied on small areas on fields or in greenhouses, these products need to be used in large quantities to be efficient, with doses used at between 300 and 1200 litres per hectare, Anses said.
(With inputs from agencies.)