The Battle between Monsanto and the farmer Paul François resumes before the court of appeal in Lyon for a fourth trial. The farmer wants to recognize the responsibility of the company in his poisoning with a herbicide.
Paul François is "tired" but "determined", says his lawyer, François Lafforgue. The 54-year-old farmer from Charente is waging his fourth battle against Monsanto, a subsidiary of German Bayer since 2018. This time, the cereal producer is counting on definitively winning the case in court and recognizing the company's responsibility in his intoxication with Lasso, a herbicide since then banned.
Within minutes of embarking for Lyon, the farmer is calm. "In twelve years of legal proceedings, I have had moments of doubt but now I am confident because justice has already made several decisions that have favored us," confesses the farmer.
Indeed, Paul François won the trial in the first instance in 2012 before the Court of Grand Instance in Lyon and then on appeal in 2015. But in 2017, Monsanto lodged an appeal for cassation, re-presenting the case to the court of appeal. "The court of appeal did not annul the court's decision, says the farmer, but considered that it should not be based on a common law foundation but on the factual liability of defective products.
A subtlety that allows the multinational to escape conviction.
Since then, the farmer has collected support. Financial first. He called for donations to continue his court battle. “And beyond my family and friends I also received many messages of support. They were decisive at a time when I was doubting a lot, especially after the decision of the Court of Cassation ”.
Today, the cereal producer demands "more than one million euros" from the American company according to the damage it suffered. Recognized as 40% disabled by the Agricultural Social Mutual Fund, the plaintiff today suffers from amnesia, dizziness, stuttering, seizures similar to epilepsy, irritability and repetitive commas linked to his accident.
"The farmers were wrong, the whole society was wrong"
The events date back to April 2004. The farmer, who at that time practiced a traditional agriculture that included the use of pesticides, suffers an acute poisoning after having accidentally inhaled Lasso vapors that escaped from a barrel that remained in Sun. Seized by attacks of heat and dizziness, the man fainted and was admitted to the emergency room.
He would spend more than 200 days in the hospital. Only one year later, Professor André Picot identifies monochlorobenzene as responsible for his poisoning, a solvent that represents 50% of the composition of Lasso.
Today, Paul François continues to work on his 250 hectare farm, transformed to organic, but supported part-time by two agricultural employees.
Now look back in disappointment. “I practiced an agriculture in which I believed, an agriculture that was promoted at that time and responded to the needs of society. We farmers were wrong, but we were also wrong collectively because it responded to an expectation of society. We trusted the companies that told us they sold drugs for plants. Additionally, they forgot to tell us that it could poison us too, ”he says.
The applicant also criticizes the French authorities who, according to him, were slow to act. The herbicide in question was considered dangerous and withdrawn from the market in Canada since 1985, then in 1992 in Belgium and the United Kingdom. In France, the herbicide was banned in November 2007.
Furthermore, Paul François regrets France's position on glyphosate. “The president lacked courage. The French authorities continue to endure the impositions of these companies ”. Meanwhile, the vigilante “hopes that this process will show multinationals like Monsanto that they cannot continue to act with impunity. That a simple citizen can denounce them and get them condemned ”.
"Bayer abides by a fair understanding of situations"
On the Monsanto side, the discourse remains the same. "Whatever the cause, the testimonies require careful listening and Bayer adheres to a fair understanding of the situations," the German group said in a statement, recalling that "the use of phytosanitary products does not represent a health risk. when they are used under the handling conditions defined in the framework of their authorization to circulate in the market ”.
One thing is for sure: the appellate court's decision is eagerly awaited. "The decision of the process of Paul François against Monsanto could open the door to many other processes of citizens who have suffered damage because of the herbicide", estimates his lawyer.
By Aude Mazoué
– This article was translated from the original in French.
Source: France 24