According to Reuters, a French court on Monday, February 13, 2012 proclaimed U. S. biotech giant Monsanto is responsible of the chemical poisoning of a French farmer in a judgment that could give weight to additional health claims brought against pesticides in other countries.
In the first such case heard in a legal court in France, grain farmer Paul Francois claims he sustained neurological difficulties such as memory loss, headaches and stammering following inhaling Monsanto’s Lasso weedkiller in 2004.
His claim encompassed around the fact that Monsanto did not providing adequate warnings on the product label.
The ruling was given by a court in Lyon, southeast France, that ordered an professional opinion of Francois’s losses to determine the sum of damages.
This decision is landmark because previous health cases from farmers have lost traction simply because of the difficulties of establishing obvious links between health problems and direct exposure to pesticides.
“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.
Francois and other farmers enduring from illness established an association in 2011 to help make a case that their health problems must be linked to their use of crop protection products.
The agricultural department of the French social security system says that since 1996, it has accumulated farmers’ reports of health issues potentially connected to pesticides, with about two hundred alerts a year.
But only approximately 47 cases have been recognized as due to pesticides in the past 10 years. Francois, who suffers from neurological problems, acquired work invalidity status only after a court appeal.
The Francois case goes back to a period of intense use of crop-protection chemicals in the European Union. The EU and its member countries have long since banned a large number of chemicals considered hazardous.
Monsanto’s Lasso was banned in France in 2007 following an EU directive after the product had already been withdrawn in some other countries.
France, the EU’s largest agricultural producer, is now targetting a 50 percent reduction in pesticide use between 2008 and 2018, with initial results showing a 4 percent cut in farm and non-farm use in 2008-2010.
The Francois claim may be easier to argue than others because he can identify a particular incident – inhaling the Lasso when maintaining the tank of his crop sprayer – whereas fellow farmers are trying to show accumulated effects from various products.
“It’s like lying on a bed of thorns and trying to say which one cut you, ” said a farmer, who has recovered from prostate cancer and asked not to be named.
The French association of crop protection companies, UIPP, says pesticides are all subject to screening and that any evidence of a cancer risk in humans leads to withdrawal of products from the market.
“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.
The social security’s farming branch this year is due to add Parkinson’s disease to its list of conditions linked to pesticide use after previously identifying some cases of blood cancers and bladder and respiratory complications.
France’s health and environment safety agency (ANSES), in the mean time, is performing a study on farmers’ health, with results anticipated in 2013.
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