Earlier this year a French court ruled that the U.S. biotech company Monsanto is guilty of the chemical poisoning of a French farmer. The French court’s decision could impact several other claims related to environmental and toxic torts that involve pesticides.
According to this article in the Huffington Post, a grain grower filed a lawsuit against the agri-business giant, alleging that he suffered neurological problems, including memory loss, headaches and stammering, after inhaling Monsanto’s Lasso weedkiller in 2004. The plaintiff claimed that Monsanto had failed to provide adequate warnings on the product’s label.
The case relates back to a period of time during which significant amounts of crop protection chemicals were used in the European Union (EU), many of which have since been banned by the EU and its member countries. The chemical involved in this lawsuit – Lasso – is a pre-emergent soil-applied herbicide that has been used to control grasses and weeds in farm fields in the 1960s. Lasso was banned in France in 2007 pursuant to an EU directive after several other EU countries had withdrawn the product due to safety concerns.
Currently, Monsanto’s Roundup is the market-dominating weedkilling herbicide, which can be used in conjunction with many other biotech herbicide tolerant crops, such as corn, soybeans, and cotton. Recently, however, farmers have been encouraged to use a variety of chemicals to prevent weeds from growing in crops because Roundup has been shown to lose its effectiveness given a rise in “super weeds” that are resistant to Roundup.
Exposure to pesticides, which are any substances used to prevent, destroy, repel or mitigate any pest, such as termites, insects or weeds, can cause serious health complications. Some of the more common health complications include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fainting, seizures, brain injuries, nerve damage, and developmental delays in children. Farmers are cautioned to take particular care when handling pesticides.
The French court’s decision could have significant impacts for Monsanto and other pesticide manufacturers. An association was created last year to help French farmers pursue their legal claims that their health problems were linked to exposure to crop protection products. According to the agricultural branch of the French social security system, it has received about 200 reports per year since 1996 of farmers’ sicknesses that are potentially related to pesticides, but only about 47 cases have been legitimately linked to the use of pesticides in the past 10 years.
“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,” François Lafforgue, Francois’s lawyer, told Reuters.