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French court upholds guilty verdict against Monsanto over poisoning of farmer who used its weedkiller

This is the latest legal setback for the company over its controversial pesticides.

Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

A FRENCH COURT has upheld a guilty verdict against chemical giant Monsanto over the poisoning of a farmer who suffered neurological damage after using one of its weedkillers.

This is the latest legal setback for the company over its controversial pesticides.

Cereal farmer Paul Francois has been fighting Monsanto, a former US company which was bought by Germany’s Bayer last year, for the past 12 years.

In the first ruling of its kind against Monsanto anywhere in the world, a French court in 2012 found it guilty of poisoning Francois.

He said he began experiencing symptoms including blackouts, headaches and loss of balance and memory after inhaling fumes while using the now-banned weedkiller Lasso.

Monsanto appealed and lost in 2015. However, it decided to go a third round.

“I won, and I’m happy, but at what cost?” Francois told reporters after the verdict.

He denounced what he called years of “legal harassment” by Monsanto.

The ruling, he said, was “a message to the government”, which he urged to ban other toxic pesticides that contain glyphosate, used in Monsanto’s top-selling Roundup.

“History will judge them for not acting,” he said, referring to a campaign pledge by President Emmanuel Macron to phase out glyphosate in France, which he backed down on last year.

The company can still appeal today’s ruling by the Cour de Cassation, a top French appeals court.

‘Not a chemist’

Francois said he fell ill in 2004 after accidentally inhaling fumes from a vat containing Lasso, a monochlorobenzene-based weedkiller that was legal in France until 2007. However, it had already been banned in 1985 in Canada and in 1992 in Belgium and Britain.

He argued that Monsanto was aware of Lasso’s dangers long before it was withdrawn from the French market, and sought damages of more than €1 million for chronic neurological damage that required long hospital stays.

The court in Lyon, southeastern France, rejected the company’s appeal but did not rule on how much Monsanto might have to pay, which will be determined in a separate ruling.

It did order the company to pay €50,000 immediately for Francois’s legal fees.

In its ruling, the court found that Monsanto should have clearly indicated on Lasso’s labelling and instructions for use “a notice on the specific dangers of using the product in vats and reservoirs”.

The plaintiff’s assumed technical knowledge does not excuse the lack of information on the product and its harmful effects – a farmer is not a chemist.

Speaking after the verdict, a lawyer for Monsanto France, Jean-Daniel Bretzner, said it would probably appeal, since the ruling applied to Lasso’s producer – in this case, Monsanto Europe.

Parent company Bayer confirmed it was weighing an appeal.

“Supposing that Paul Francois was accidently exposed to Lasso, by definition such exposure is rare,” it said in a statement.

Other cases

This is the latest conviction against Monsanto involving its weedkillers and pesticides, which have been widely used around the world for years.

Last month, a San Francisco court ordered the $80 million (€71 million) payout to a retiree who blames its popular Roundup weedkiller, which contains glyphosate, for causing his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The company said it would appeal as it faces thousands of similar lawsuits in the United States.

It had already been ordered last year to pay $78.5 million (€69.7 million) to a California groundskeeper who attributed his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma to using Roundup as well as Monsanto’s Ranger Pro.

Monsanto denies that Roundup causes cancer.

It has challenged findings by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), which classified glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen” in 2015.

© – AFP 2019

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