French court upholds Monsanto poisoning ruling

(Scott Bauer photo courtesy ARS/USDA)

Lyon/Paris|Reuters — A French court upheld on Thursday a 2012 ruling in which Monsanto was found liable in the chemical poisoning of a French farmer, who says he suffered neurological problems after inhaling the U.S. company’s Lasso herbicide.

The decision by an appeal court in Lyon confirmed the initial judgment, the first such case heard in court in France, that ruled Monsanto was “responsible” for the intoxication and ordered the company to “fully compensate” grain grower Paul Francois.

Monsanto’s lawyer said the U.S. biotech company would now take the case to France’s highest appeal court.

Francois, who says he suffered memory loss, headaches and stammering after inhaling Monsanto’s Lasso in 2004, blames the agribusiness giant for not providing adequate warnings on the product label.

Lasso, a pre-emergent soil-applied herbicide that has been used since the 1960s to control grasses and broadleaf weeds in farm fields, was banned in France in 2007 after the product had already been withdrawn in other countries such as Canada, Belgium and Britain.

In Canada, where Lasso was registered for use in corn and soybeans, the federal government cancelled all product registrations for the active ingredient, alachlor, in 1985.

Ottawa’s decision cited alachlor’s carcinogenic potential and an “unacceptable risk of harm to public health” both from occupational exposure and from non-occupational exposure through ground water.

Monsanto phased out of Lasso in the U.S. several years ago for commercial reasons, its spokesman in France said.

Though it once was a top-selling herbicide, it gradually lost popularity, and critics say several studies have shown links to a range of health problems.

Monsanto said in a statement after the ruling that experts, including those nominated by the French civil court, had not found any causal link between the alleged accidental exposure and the alleged damages for which Francois claims compensation.

The company’s lawyer, Jean-Daniel Bretzner, said a potential fine to compensate for the farmer’s loss would be decided after the decision of the highest court but he said that in any case it would be very low.

“We are speaking about modest sums of money or even nonexistent. He already received indemnities (by insurers) and there is a fundamental rule that says that one does not compensate twice for a loss, if any,” Bretzner said.

Lasso is not Monsanto’s sole herbicide accused of being harmful.

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said in March that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, one of the world’s most used herbicides, was “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Monsanto reacted to the finding in June by demanding a retraction, labeling the findings by a team of international cancer scientists as “junk science.”

Reporting for Reuters by Catherine Lagrange and Sybille de La Hamaide. Includes files from Network staff.

CORRECTION, Sept. 14, 2015: Reuters’ earlier version of this article used the word “guilty” rather than “liable” in the first paragraph.


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