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Plant protection in France and Germany from the 1930s to the 1950s: the case of the Colorado potato beetle

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In this paper, I aim at proposing a French-German history of the rise of chemical insecticides from the 1930s to the 1950s using the Colorado potato beetle as a case study. This particular insect was one of the most feared agricultural pests after World War I. Being such a big threat for food supply in France and Germany, especially during World War II, the potato beetle was considered as public enemy number one in agriculture. It was also one of the first agricultural pests fought at a European level through chemical means, and was contemporary to the advent of chemical pesticides. Originating from the USA , hence the name Colorado, the potato beetle infested Europe in the early 1920s, starting in Bordeaux’s haven and then spreading year after year until the end of the 1950s. Furthermore, this insect had strong cultural implications throughout the 20th century. In World War II German occupation soldiers were nicknamed ‘Potato Beetles’ (‘Doryphores’) by the French population because they were invaders and were known to eat a lot of potatoes. After the war, the Colorado potato beetle was presented in East Germany in communist propaganda to be a biological weapon used by the USA , in order to sabotage socialist agriculture with insects supposedly brought on German territory using planes. Through a French-German history of the fight against the Colorado potato beetle, I will try to show what comparative history can bring to the history of agriculture, which is often studied inside national frames.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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