French cereal farmer Paul Francois, head of the Phyto-Victims association attends a news conference after the verdict in his appeals trial against US Monsanto firm, in Paris, France, on April 11 2019. Picture: REUTERS/CHARLES PLATIAU
French cereal farmer Paul Francois, head of the Phyto-Victims association attends a news conference after the verdict in his appeals trial against US Monsanto firm, in Paris, France, on April 11 2019. Picture: REUTERS/CHARLES PLATIAU

Lyon — A French appeals court on Thursday said US chemicals giant Monsanto was guilty of poisoning a farmer who said he suffered neurological damage after accidentally inhaling fumes from a weedkiller made by the company.

Paul Francois, a cereal farmer, had already won previous lawsuits against Monsanto, which was bought by Germany’s Bayer in 2018 , in 2012 and 2015.

He said he fell ill in 2004 after being exposed to Lasso, a weedkiller containing monochlorobenzene that was legal in France until 2007 but which had already been banned in 1985 in Canada and in 1992 in Belgium and Britain.

He argued that Monsanto was aware of Lasso’s dangers long before it was withdrawn from the French market and sought damages of more than €1m for chronic neurological damage that led to long hospital stays.

The court in Lyon, southeastern France, rejected the company’s appeal but did not rule on how much Monsanto might have to pay, which will be determined in a separate ruling. It did order the company to pay €50,000 immediately for Francois’s legal fees.

In its ruling, the court found that Monsanto should have clearly indicated on Lasso’s labelling and instructions for use “a notice on the specific dangers of using the product in vats and reservoirs”.

“The plaintiff’s assumed technical knowledge does not excuse the lack of information on the product and its harmful effects — a farmer is not a chemist,” it added.

Speaking after the verdict, a lawyer for Monsanto France, Jean-Daniel Bretzner, said it would probably appeal, since the ruling applied to Lasso’s producer — in this case — Monsanto Europe.

It was the latest conviction against Monsanto involving its weedkillers and pesticides, which have been widely used around the world for years.

In March, a San Francisco court ordered it to pay around $80m to a retiree who blames its popular Roundup weedkiller, which contains glyphosate, for causing his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The company said it would appeal as it faces thousands of similar lawsuits in the US.

Monsanto denies that the weedkiller causes cancer and has challenged findings by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organisation, which classified glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen” in 2015. 

AFP