On Monday, a French court ruled in favor of farmer Paul François, who suffered neurological symptoms including headaches, memory loss and stammering after inhaling Monsanto’s herbicide, Lasso.
The decision marks the first time the pesticide and biotech giant — the largest of the Big 6 — has been held liable for poisoning caused by its products. Monsanto is appealing the verdict.
Although scientific evidence on the health impacts of pesticides has been around for many years — and continues to accumulate — court decisions like this one are a rare victory for farmers and eaters.
Broken U.S. policies prevent such liability
In the United States, such an outcome is near-impossible. Current federal pesticide policies put the onus of responsibility on farmers, workers and communities to prove causation of harm, rather than on pesticide producers to prove that their products are safe.
As one farmer who recovered from prostate cancer told a Washington Post reporter, proving health effects of exposure to pesticides over time is the equivalent of “lying on a bed of thorns and trying to say which one cut you.“
Pesticide corporations have played a powerful role in shaping industry-friendly U.S. policies over the years. From its inception in 1947, our federal pesticide law (the Federal Insecticide Fungicide Rodenticide Act – FIFRA) has been a labeling law with next-to-no exercisable enforcement authority. It specifically protects pesticide corporations from being held legally liable for damages caused by their products, once their products have been registered for use.
Building on 2011 People’s Tribunal verdict
In the absence of common sense regulations and public protections, people are holding the pesticide industry accountable in other ways.
In December 2011, PAN International convened an international people’s tribunal to hold the Big 6 accountable for human rights abuses. After four days of hearing testimony, including countless stories of loss of health, life and livelihood due to violations of the pesticide industry, an independent jury of experts from around the world delivered a strong verdict that called for a rollback of corporate control on food and farming.
Although the battle is far from over, it is promising to see the tribunal followed so closely by a victory in the courts. As these seemingly small wins add up, they build a movement towards the fair, safe and green food system that PAN — and our supporters — have always stood for.