Photo: Luther Blissett/CC BY 1.0
A French court has declared Monsanto—the American biotechnology giant driving growth of genetically engineered crops around the world, and the world's largest seed company—guilty of chemical poisoning of a French farmer, Reuters reports.
The case involved Paul Francois, a cereal farmer who said that after inhaling Monsanto's Lasso weedkiller (which has since been banned in France) in 2004, he suffered neurological problems including memory loss, headaches and stammering. He blamed Monsanto for not providing adequate warnings on the product label.
The court's decision—in the first case of its kind in France—is significant because in the past, like with many health consequences from industry or pollution, farmers have been unable to prove a direct link between illnesses and exposure to pesticides. ("It's like lying on a bed of thorns and trying to say which one cut you," is how another farmer, who couldn't pinpoint a specific incident that led to his bout with prostate cancer, described the burden of proof—quote taken also from the Reuters story.)
"I am alive today, but part of the farming population is going to be sacrificed and is going to die because of this," Francois, 47, told Reuters.
He and other farmers suffering from illness set up an association last year to make a case that their health problems should be linked to their use of crop protection products.
The agricultural branch of the French social security system says that since 1996, it has gathered farmers' reports of sickness potentially related to pesticides, with about 200 alerts a year.
But only about 47 cases have been recognised as due to pesticides in the past 10 years. Francois, who suffers from neurological problems, obtained work invalidity status only after a court appeal.
The ruling has potential to give leverage to other health claims against pesticides. (Or not. Stay tuned.)