Business, Finance & Economics

French judge says Monsanto poisoned farmer


A photo taken on December 12, 2011 shows French farmer Paul François arriving at the tribunal of Lyon, central eastern France, for the beginning of a trial in which he accuses the Monsanto company of poisoning him after the use in 2004 of a herbicide forbidden in France since 2007. A French court on February 13, 2012 found US agriculture giant Monsanto legally responsible for the poisoning French farmer Paul Francois with one of its herbicides in 2004, opening the way for damages to be paid.



In the first case of its kind in France, a judge found Monsanto, the world's largest seed company, guilty of poisoning a French farmer.

Grain grower Paul Francois said he suffered neurological problems after he inhaled Monsanto's Lasso weed-killer in 2004. He argued that Monsanto should have put a better warning label on the product, Reuters reported. On Monday, a French court in Lyon sided with Francois.

More from GlobalPost: Agent Orange maker Monsanto back in Vietnam

"It is a historic decision in so far as it is the first time that a [pesticide] maker is found guilty of such a poisoning," Francois' lawyer told Reuters. The case could pave the way for other pesticide-related litigation.

Though France is the European Union's largest agricultural producer, the country is trying to cut down on pesticides. Reuters reported that France aims to reduce pesticide use by 50 percent between 2008 and 2018.

While some researchers and farmers have voiced concerns about herbicide and pesticide use, they say that proving a direct link between chemical exposure and a specific disease is difficult. "It's like lying on a bed of thorns and trying to say which one cut you," one farmer told Reuters. 

Previous studies have found that another Monsanto weed-killer, Roundup, can suffocate human cells in a laboratory, reported the Scientific American

In addition to its herbicides, Monsanto is also controversial for its use of genetically modified foods, which critics sometimes call "frankenfoods," and its patents on genetically modified seeds. In 2009, 26 corn-insect specialists wrote to the Environmental Protection Agency, complaining that company patents prevented scientists from studying the safety of genetically modified seeds, reported the New York Times

And a 2008 Vanity Fair investigation detailed Monsanto's long history of making products that have sometimes harmed human health, such as Agent Orange. 

Monsanto announced today on France Info radio that it plans to appeal the French court's ruling.