A French 16-year-old boy born with severe physical malformation has been compensated more than €35,000, it has been revealed, after a causal link was acknowledged to his mother’s exposure to the herbicide glyphosate while pregnant. This is the first time this has happened in France.
Born in 2007, Théo has a ‘hole’ in his oesophagus, and has had a tracheotomy (a tube in his throat) since he was three months old. His oesophagus does not reach his stomach, and without help, anything that he swallowed would come back up and be inhaled into his lungs.
Until he was six, he lived with a cannula (a small tube) running down his trachea. His mother Sabine Grataloup explained to FranceInfo that he had a “permanent risk” of choking, and that it was necessary to “aspirate the cannula every 10 minutes during the day, and every 45 minutes at night. It was very tough”.
Théo has had 54 operations in his short life, including to help him eat and talk, as he was also born without vocal cords, and problems with his larynx.
When Ms Grataloup was just a few weeks’ pregnant, before she realised she was expecting, she used the glyphosate herbicide called Glyper - a generic version of the well-known brand Roundup - on a 700m2 area of land as part of her work with horses and horse-riding. It was at this point in her pregnancy that the oesophagus and the trachea were forming.
The pesticide victims’ association Commission d'indemnisation des enfants victimes d'une exposition prénatale aux pesticides made the causal link decision between her use of glyphosate (which is a ‘herbicide’ not a pesticide) and Theo’s medical problems, in March 2022. The compensation money came from the fund le Fonds d'indemnisation des victimes de pesticides.
Ms Grataloup said: “We have been fighting for years to recognise this link, after having alerted politicians, scientists, and health authorities. We had to assemble all the proof ourselves, with our lawyers, to list the studies on the subject.
“So to have this response from a committee of experts, whose competence and independence are undeniable, is something very, very strong.
“There are gaps in the available studies. There are many inquiries that show that regulation agencies only look at a very small part of the studies published, and often use those that are done by the [pesticide] companies themselves. It makes no sense.”
She added: “We didn’t do this for the money [for ourselves]. We will carefully put this money aside, and Théo will get it when he turns 18.”
‘A duty to speak out’
News of the compensation has only just become public now after Ms Grataloup discovered that the European Commission was considering extending its authorisation of the use of glyphosate in the EU for 10 more years.
This pushed her to go public about the damage that the herbicide can cause. Previously, she wanted to keep the compensation confidential, for fear of attracting online abuse (which the family has already suffered the few times that the case made the news in 2017 and 2019).
But Ms Grataloup - who lives with her family in Moidieu-Détourbe (Isère, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes) - told FranceInfo that she now feels she has a duty to speak out.
She said: “I cried [when I heard about the European Commission]. I said to myself: ‘But how is this possible? They haven’t understood a thing.’ Behind these statistics are real families and ill people.”
In May 2018, the family took Monsanto - the manufacturer of Roundup - to court. Ms Grataloup said: “We had a duty to do it, above all for Theo, who will have to live his entire life with the consequences of a product that should not have been on the market.
“We have a duty also to protect future children, against the difficulty that politicians have to react in an effective and independent way against this threat to public health. We must stop this product, to avoid any further victims.”
‘We can no longer keep quiet’
The Grataloup family first alerted authorities to their suspected link between the herbicide and Théo’s health problems in 2009.
She said: “We can no longer keep quiet. We can no longer let politicians and journalists continue to say that there is no problem with glyphosate. We are speaking out so that decision-makers can take people’s suffering into account.”
Théo himself has even made a personal appeal directly to President Emmanuel Macron, asking him about his promise to outlaw glyphosate, and subsequent U-turns. He said: “I am asking you: When will you keep your promises? How many more victims will there need to be before you ban this pesticide?”
RÉVÉLATIONS VAKITA !— Vakita (@vakitamedia) October 9, 2023
Théo, 16 ans, vient d’apprendre que sa pathologie est en lien probable avec le glyphosate que sa maman utilisait lorsqu'elle était enceinte de lui. Il lance un appel à @EmmanuelMacron
Le reportage d'@A2lan_H est à retrouver sur https://t.co/1Np9gevDes pic.twitter.com/6IDLWT7U9A
During the family’s court case, several doctors testified about a possible link between congenital malformations in babies and prenatal exposition to glyphosate. The Commission’s decision and acknowledgement of a link could now have an impact on the ongoing court case.
Around 200 children in France are born with a similar condition to Théo every year (although there is no suggestion that all of these are connected with pesticide or herbicide exposure).
Judicial proceedings against Monsanto - which is now owned by pharmaceutical giant Bayer - in connection with glyphosate claims are still ongoing.
Glyphosate was banned from sale to individuals in France from January 1, 2019. However, it is still legal for professionals. The EU reviews its authorisation of glyphosate every five years, and has so far stopped short of banning it for farmers.
President Macron said in 2017 he would ban the herbicide’s use in France by 2021, but later said this would not be possible for 10% of professional cases. He said there are specialised kinds of farming, such as conservation agriculture (protecting the soil from erosion), for which there are not yet effective alternatives.
French MPs have so far refused to outlaw the herbicide completely. However one glyphosate product, Roundup Pro 360, often used in vineyards, was banned from sale in France after a court judgement against it in Lyon.
Cases against the product are growing, in France and worldwide. Notably, in 2019, Bayer was ordered to pay €72 million to a man who had used the product to control weeds at his home for years. He had developed cancer, which the court considered to be linked to the product.