Monsanto, the U.S. biotechnology giant, lost a lawsuit in France this week. In Lyon, France a judge found the company guilty of chemically poisoning a farmer that used Monsanto herbicides. Activists around the globe are hoping this ruling will have international impact.It was the first ruling of its kind against a pesticide maker in France.
Paul Franciois, 47, a grain farmer suffered neurological problems including memory loss, headaches, stammering and muscular aches after inhaling Monsanto’s Lasso weed killer herbicide in 2004. He was unable to work due to the side effects of the chemical, and a court ordered expert established the losses to determine the amount of damages. The amount of damages to be paid is unknown at this time.
The prosecution was able to prove that Monsanto did not provide adequate warnings on the product label, nor did they pull the Lasso product from the French market until 2007. It had been banned earlier in Canada, Britain, and Belgium. Monsanto argued that the herbicide had been considered safe in France for 40 years and had been used by farmers around the globe.
U.S. Vietnam War veterans sued three producers of Agent Orange: Monsanto, Dow Chemical, and Diamond Shamrock. All the lawsuits were for side effects due to exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange. By 1984, a settlement was reached out of court, but veterans felt betrayed. The class action suit was settled out of court for $180 million; slightly over 45 percent of this was ordered to be paid by Monsanto alone. Many veterans who were victims of Agent Orange exposure were outraged the case had been settled instead of going to court, and felt they had been betrayed by the lawyers. "Fairness Hearings" were held in five major American cities, where veterans and their families discussed their reactions to the settlement, and condemned the actions of the lawyers and courts.
According to Monsanto’s website, the company has also filed 145 suits against farmers in the US since 1997. Those cases involve instances where the company believed farmers committed patent infringement by saving seed from one season's crop to plant the next. The company sustains that its products invaluably contribute to ensuring food security around the world, according to France24.
For an in depth look at how Monsanto controls the American farmer, watch the movie Food, Inc. for an expose of Monsanto and the nation’s food industry.
International sentiment is turning against the chemical giant, and countries view this court decision as beginning the battle to challenge and win against the use of harmful products of biotechnical companies. Although the majority of legal battles being lodged against Monsanto are from industrialized countries, South American grain exporting countries like Argentina are taking notice.
Mariam Mayet, director of the Johannesburg-based African Centre for Biodiversity, said she was very interested in the precedent established by the French court, even if it was more symbolic than legal. “Monsanto has been very arrogant about plaintiffs’ ability to prove a direct link between the herbicide and the harm suffered. The French court has said we can find a direct link,” she told FRANCE 24.
Mayet said groups representing farmers in South Africa were still a long way from being able to stand up to Monsanto in court, but she was hopeful things would eventually change: “I hope the ruling will inspire South Africans to hold not just Monsanto but all agri-businesses accountable for their actions – and not only in relation to weed killers.”