In what is being viewed as a major victory for public health advocates, a French court last week declared Monsanto guilty in the chemical poisoning of a French farmer, a ruling that could - and should - lead to additional health claims against the use of pesticides.
Paul Francois, a grain grower, told the court he suffered neurological problems that included memory loss, stammering and headaches after having inhaled Monsanto's Lasso weed killer in 2004. He accused Monsanto of not providing adequate warnings on the product.
A court in Lyon, which is located in southeast France, agreed, ordering an expert to determine the extent of Francois's losses and injuries to determine a proper sum of damages.
The ruling marks the first time anyone has been able to establish a clear link between one of Monsanto's dangerous products and illnesses caused by exposure to them.
"I am alive today, but part of the farming population is going to be sacrificed and is going to die because of this," Francois told Reuters in an interview.
Francois brought his case after he and other farmers banded together to form an association of individuals who claim they, too, began suffering illness following exposure to Monsanto's so-called "crop protection" chemicals. The rising tide of illnesses - about 200 per year since 1996, according to the agricultural branch of the French social security system - should be more than enough to give pause, not only to French citizens, but to anyone exposed to produce that has been "treated" with any of these dangerous pesticides.
On the surface, the French court's ruling seemed inevitable, if not somewhat overdue. Monsanto's Lasso was banned throughout France in 2007, following a European Union directive after the product had been taken out of use in a few other countries.
Perhaps because of the increasing health problems caused by chemical use in agriculture, France - the EU's largest grower - is going a step further, having announced a plan to curb pesticide use by 50 percent between 2008 and 2018.
From the sound of it, the cut in usage can't come soon enough. Other farmers have blamed chemicals for their lingering health problems as well.
"It's like lying on a bed of thorns and trying to say which one cut you," one farmer recovering from prostate cancer, who asked not to be named, told Reuters, regarding his widespread exposure to a number of agricultural chemical products.
History of foul play
For its part, Monsanto has a long history of producing products that are a detriment to society. The biotech giant paid $700 million in settlements in 2003 for secretly poisoning residents who lived next to their PCB plant in Anniston, Ala.
In 2008, an expose revealed the agri-giant as a ruthless corporation that routinely threatens small farmers and planters over dubious claims of patent violations and other alleged "crimes" against the company, all for engaging in the millennia-old practice of reusing seeds from season to season.
But farmers - especially organic farmers - are battling back. About 300,000 of them filed suit in March 2011 in a bid to keep at least a portion of the world's food supply completely organic.
Spearheaded by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, the suit seeks to keep Monsanto's GenuityR Roundup ReadyR canola seed out of their farms. "Organic agriculturalists say that corn, cotton, sugar beets and other crops of theirs have been contaminated by Monsanto's seed, and even though the contamination has been largely natural and unintended, Monsanto has been suing hundreds of farmers for infringing on their patent for incidentally using their product," said one report.
In addition, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice are also examining Monsanto's business practices. It's about time.