photo by MillyNeT (Flickr CC)

A court in Lyon, France found American biotech firm Monsanto guilty of poisoning a farmer who inhaled fumes from its Lasso weed killer back in 2004.

Monsanto was made famous in the 1970s for being sued by American Vietnam War veterans who were poisoned by the defoliant Agent Orange. They are also being sued by some 300,000 plaintiffs because they patent genetically modified seeds that don’t proliferate, forcing farmers to buy more every year.

Lasso has been banned in Canada and the UK since the 80s and is now banned in France. One year after cereal farmer Paul François accidentally inhaled the toxic weed killer, significant traces of a poisonous chemical called monochlorobenzene were found in his system. What’s more is that Monsanto didn’t even mention that Lasso contains monochlorobenzene on the herbicide’s main labels.

From the Independent:

Mr François accidentally inhaled fumes from a Lasso sprayer in April 2004 and was forced to give up his farm in Charente, western France, after suffering neurological and muscular problems, including fainting fits, memory-loss, headaches and stammering.

Monsanto of course denies that there is sufficient evidence that Lasso caused François’ problems and will appeal the verdict.

The decision was a landmark ruling for France, a country with some of the worst chemical herbicide, fertilizer and pesticide pollution in Europe. France is currently in the middle of a 10-year process with the aim of cutting its pesticide use by 50%.

Working on a farm is no picnic. And farmers who are poisoned by agricultural chemicals are usually left in the cold.

Tim Lang, a professor of Food Policy at London’s City University, is quoted in a France 24 report:

Illnesses are frequently blamed on the farmer or worker for not following regulations. Agriculture is consistently one of the most dangerous fields to work in.

And I bet you thought it was a cushy, glamorous profession like a coctail waitress or professional blogger.