French farmer’s long fight against Monsanto draws to close

Farmer Paul François has been locked in a legal battle with the controversial multinational corporation since 2004

20 October 2020
Paul François standing in a field. French farmer’s long fight against Monsanto draws to closePrevious trials have found Mr François fell ill after using the Monsanto weedkiller Lasso on his farm
By Joanna York

A judicial process that has pitted French cereal farmer Paul François against multinational giant Bayer/Monsanto for over a decade could end tomorrow (October 21). 

The trial is currently being studied by the Cour de cessation, France’s supreme court of appeal.

Mr François, who lives in Charente in western France, claims he was poisoned by a Monsanto product in 2004, after inhaling toxic vapours from the company’s Lasso weedkiller.

The product was banned in France three years later, and is also now banned in the United Kingdom, Canada and Belgium.

Since then, Monsanto has been acquired by German pharmaceutical and life science company, Bayer.

Legal fight began in 2007

Mr François began his legal fight in 2007, accusing Monsanto of being responsible for poisoning him, and claiming €1million in damages. 

He said that inhaling chemicals from Lasso had left him with neurological issues such as memory loss, stammering and headaches, as well as fainting spells. Almost a year after he had inhaled the product, monochlorobenzene, a solvent used in Lasso, was found in his bloodstream.

Doctors have recognised his health problems as a “professional illness”. 

However, his claim has been contested by Monsanto and, later, Bayer - with both companies denying all responsibility for Mr François’ medical issues.

 

Farmer has won multiple appeals

Nonetheless, Mr François has won multiple cases against the two companies. He won a trial in 2012, an appeal in 2015, and a second trial at an appeals court in 2019. 

In each instance, Monsanto has been found to be responsible for Mr François’ health issues, with the last trial finding Monsanto responsible on grounds of providing “defective products” – a first in France. 

The trials have continued as Monsanto, and now Bayer, have repeatedly lodged appeals against rulings in Mr François’ favour. 

Legally, Monsanto have been found guilty of not clearly indicating the specific dangers of using Lasso weedkiller in vats, as Mr François was doing. 

The company has not been found to be at fault for the toxicity of the product in itself, with the 2019 trial finding that a highly dangerous product is not automatically "defective". 

Monsanto/Bayer refuse responsibility

At the 2019 trial, Monsanto defended itself by saying Mr François had shown “negligence” when using Lasso, which he knew “perfectly well (was) a dangerous product”.

The court of appeal in Lyon responded by ruling that “the technical knowledge of Paul François...could not mitigate the lack of information on the product about its noxious effects. An agricultural farmer is not a chemist". 

Legal authorities went on to state that Monsanto had not specified “the specific dangers for use in vats and reservoirs” on the label or packaging of the product.

Farmer's fight may end for good tomorrow

If the Cour de cessation dismisses Bayer's appeal tomorrow, legal proceedings can begin to draw to a close for Mr François, for once and for all.

While awaiting the result, Bayer maintains that Lasso “is not the origin of the illnesses, as alleged by Mr François”.

Mr François' lawyer has said his client hopes the Cour de cessation’s decision will go in his favour and provide a “definitive end to legal proceedings”.

The cereal farmer still maintains a farm in Charente, which is now dedicated to organic agriculture.

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