Last week a French court found the multinational biotech corporation Monsanto guilty of poisoning a French farmer, in a landmark ruling hailed as a breakthrough in the fight against chemical pesticides and herbicides in farming. “It is a historic decision in so far as it is the first time that a (herbicide) maker is found guilty of such a poisoning,” said Maître Francois Lafforgue, François’ lawyer.
In 2004, cereal farmer Paul François accidentally inhaled fumes from Monsanto’s Lasso weed-killer. He later had to give up his farm after suffering neurological and muscular problems including fainting fits, memory-loss, headaches and stammering, and his body was found to contain significant traces of monochlorobenzene, a toxic component of the product not mentioned on its main label or packaging. Monsanto will now face a multi-million dollar compensation ruling later this year.
“What happened to François is a tragic reminder of our imperative to promote an alternative model of agriculture that is healthy for the environment, consumers and producers,” said Vincent Clary, coordinator of the Haute-Provence Einkorn Presidium, one of 15 Slow Food projects in France that support sustainable, organic production of traditional foods.
In addition to this potential severe impact of chemical agricultural products on human health, French rivers are among the worst polluted in Europe by residues of chemical herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers, spreading the impact into the countryside and production chain.
“Lasso has been off the market since 1980 in Canada and the UK but mysteriously its high level of danger wasn’t recognized in the EU before 2007,” said Clary. “This time this shameful system has been compensated by a sentence, but in my opinion its too late… this is why we have come together as producers and created our own strict production protocol that forbids chemical pesticides and severely limits the use of synthetic fertilizers.”
The Haute-Provence Einkorn grain achieves very good productivity without the use of chemical treatment. “This just emphasizes why we should fiercely protect our food biodiversity, ensuring that we can continue to grow crops that are well adapted to a particular environment, and avoid forcing the use of the same seeds the world over that require huge chemical inputs to survive.”
Slow Food has long opposed the ethics and actions of Monsanto, which in addition to its production of synthetic agrochemicals, is the world’s leading producer of genetically engineered seeds. Slow Food vice-president Vandana Shiva has been a particularly vocal opponent, criticizing the company of attempting to establish a dictatorship over the world’s seeds, food system and water. At the Terra Madre 2010 closing ceremony, she called on the crowd to “celebrate this Terra Madre as the beginning of the end of Monsanto.”
Rulings like this bring us a step closer.