Monsanto loses final appeal over French farmer’s herbicide accident

Paris | Reuters — Bayer’s Monsanto division on Wednesday lost a final appeal in a long-running French legal battle in which the crop chemical maker has been held liable for a farmer’s accidental inhalation of a herbicide.

Monsanto had been trying to overturn a decision by an appeals court in 2019 that had found the company’s product safety information to have been inadequate in relation to the accident involving farmer Paul Francois in 2004.

France’s highest court rejected Monsanto’s latest appeal in a ruling published on Wednesday, opening the way for another court to decide on what damages should be awarded to Francois.

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The farmer has argued that the fumes he inhaled from the herbicide Lasso, a product that was subsequently withdrawn from the French market, caused neurological problems, including memory loss, fainting and headaches.

Bayer said in an emailed statement that it was reviewing the court ruling. Bayer also said in the statement that court-appointed medical experts had found previously that the incident did not cause the illnesses cited by Francois.

Crop protection products “do not present a risk to human health if they are used under the conditions of use defined in the context of their marketing authorization,” Bayer said.

Lasso’s active ingredient, alachlor, came to market in Canada and the U.S. in 1969, and was also sold under trade names including Bronco and Lariat, among others.

In Canada, where it had been approved for control of grasses in corn and soybean crops, alachlor’s registrations were cancelled in 1985, citing risks to human health. Its authorizations were withdrawn in 2007 in the European Union, while in the U.S., Monsanto cancelled its registrations in 2016.

Anti-pesticide group Generations Futures, which has supported Francois in his court case, said it welcomed “this historic decision in which an agro-chemical multinational is at last found liable for the harm caused to this courageous farmer.”

Francois has previously sought damages of around one million euros (C$1.55 million).

Bayer, which acquired Monsanto for US$63 billion in 2018, has been facing a wave of litigation in the U.S. over allegations that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup causes cancer.

Bayer, which argues Roundup is safe, is trying to settle the litigation through a proposed US$11 billion payment.

— Reporting for Reuters by Gus Trompiz in Paris. Includes files from Glacier FarmMedia Network staff.

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