Court finds Monsanto guilty of poisoning | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 13.02.2012
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Court finds Monsanto guilty of poisoning

A French court finds biotech giant Monsanto guilty of chemical poisoning. This groundbreaking verdict could influence future claims.

A French court on Monday declared US biotech giant Monsanto guilty of the chemical poisoning of a French farmer. This is the first such claim to reach a French court and could lend weight to other health claims against pesticide producers.

"Monsanto is responsible for Paul Francois' suffering after he inhaled the Lasso product ... and must entirely compensate him," said the judgment from the court in the southeastern city of Lyon.

Francois Lafforgue, lawyer for the plaintiff, labeled the verdict an "historic decision in so far as it is the first time that a (pesticide) maker is found guilty of such a poisoning."

Grain farmer Paul Francois, 47, says he suffered neurological problems including memory loss, headaches and stammering after inhaling Monsanto's Lasso weed killer in 2004.

He blames the agri-business giant for not providing adequate warnings on the product label.

The court ordered an expert opinion of the effects on the farmer to establish an amount for damages.

Monsanto said Monday that it was disappointed with the ruling and would look into a possible appeal.

"Monsanto always considered that there were not sufficient elements to establish a causal relationship between Paul Francois's symptoms and a potential poisoning," the company's lawyer, Jean-Philippe Delsart, said.

Fewer chemicals used today

Previous health claims from farmers have suffered in their ability to establish clear links between illnesses and exposure to pesticides.

In this July 13, 2010 photograph, the DEKALB corn logo is seen on alongside rows of corn near Pleasant Plains, Ill. DEKALB is one of Monsanto's leading North American brands. Monsanto said Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2010, it expects full year earnings at the low end of its previous expected range. The world's largest seed company is also cutting up to 700 more jobs. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Monsanto is among the world's largest agricultural biotech company's

In the Francois case, it was easier to pinpoint a specific incident - his inhalation of the Lasso when cleaning the tank of his crop sprayer - whereas other farmers are trying to argue the effects of accumulated exposures to various products.

This case harks back to a time when crop-protection chemicals were more heavily used in Europe. The EU has since banned a large number of substances considered dangerous.

Monsanto's Lasso, for example, was banned in France in 2007 following an EU directive after the product had already been withdrawn in some other countries.

Effects on others considered

The French association of crop protection companies, UIPP, said tests are done regularly to weigh cancer risks in humans.

"I think if we had a major health problem with pesticides, we would have already known about it," Jean-Charles Bocquet, UIPP's managing director, said.

Francois, meanwhile, is convinced he is just one of many to suffer effects from the pesticide. "I am alive today, but part of the farming population is going to be sacrificed and is going to die because of this," Francois said.

France's health and environment safety agency (ANSES), meanwhile, is conducting a study on farmers' health, with results expected next year.

tm/dfm (Reuters, AFP)