Update, 6:11 p.m.: Monsanto spokesman Tom Helscher says the company does not think there is “sufficient data” to demonstrate a link between the use of Lasso herbicide and the symptoms Francois reported.
“We do not agree any injury was accidentally caused nor did the company intentionally permit injury,” Helscher said, saying Monsanto is planning to appeal the verdict. “Lasso herbicide was... successfully used by farmers on millions of hectares around the world.”
Memory loss. Headaches. Stammering.
French farmer Paul Francois says he suffered all three neurological problems after inhaling a weedkiller made by biotech giant Monsanto in 2004. On Monday, a French court found Monsanto legally responsible for poisoning Francois and ordered the company to compensate him “entirely,” Agence France-Presse reports.
The decision could affect more than just Francois; it marks the first time a farmer has successfully sued the company over claims of the health problems caused by pesticides.
Francois, who is 47, told Reuters that he was pleased with the decision but said many other farmers have already been affected.
“I am alive today, but part of the farming population is going to be sacrificed and is going to die because of this,” he told Reuters.
Monsanto’s lawyer had argued that poisoning couldn’t be proved because Francois’s symptoms didn’t appear until months after the inhalation.
Since 1996, 200 farmers have reported health problems to the agricultural branch of the French social security system that potentially are a result of pesticides.
But prior cases by farmers against Monsanto have been less successful, as they tried to argue about health problems accumulated over time.
“It’s like lying on a bed of thorns and trying to say which one cut you,” a farmer who recovered from prostate cancer and asked not to be named told Reuters.
Francois’s suit accuses Monsanto of not providing adequate health warnings on the label of the weedkiller, Lasso, as well as keeping the product on the French market even though it had been banned in Canada, Britain and Belgium.
The world’s largest pesticide producer said it has not decided whether to appeal the verdict.
Monsanto has been at the center of dozens of protests over the years, most often over health problems possibly associated with genetically modified foods it has produced, including soybean, corn, rice and eggplant.
Last month, a two-year-old appointment of a former Monsanto vice president to the Food and Drug Administration sparked an online petition for his removal.