|July 09, 2015|
'First ever' criminal investigation in France into wine grower's death from pesticide use
|A French criminal court has launched an unprecedented inquiry into the "involuntary homicide" of a Bordeaux wine grower who died of lung cancer after using a toxic pesticide on his grapes for 40 years. |
James-Bernard Murat, died in 2012 after spraying his vineyards in southwestern France with three pesticides containing sodium arsenite, that is now banned as a carcinogenic poison.
His cancer was officially confirmed to be "linked to his profession" in 2011, but this is the first time a criminal investigation has been launched to seek those responsible for "involuntary homicide, fraud and failure to offer aid".
Lawyers for his daughter, Valérie, said it could open the door to hundreds of other cases both against pesticide producers, and perhaps the French state for negligence.
Ms Murat filed a legal complaint in April, saying she wanted to break the "law of silence" over the ill-effects on health of pesticides in French vineyards. The preliminary criminal inquiry was launched in June.
France is Europe's heaviest user of pesticides, spraying around 60,000 tons of a range of products on crops every year. A fifth of these are pumped into the country's vineyards despite the fact that they only account for three per cent of its agricultural surface area.
According to Ms Murat, her father used sodium arsenite for 42 years, from 1958 to 2000, to treat his vines for esca, a disease via parasitic fungi that affects the trunks of mature grapevines, despite the fact that its harmfulness has been "officially recognised since 1955".
"Until now, the official line has been that my father got cancer because he had wrongly used the products sold to him. The industrial chemical giants are now going to have to take responsibility for their role [in his death]," she told Nouvel Obs.
Her lawyer, François Lafforgue, said: "This is about recognising that the labels on the incriminating products didn't indicate the serious effects of inhaling them and the need to wear a mask while using them."
As well as the pesticide producers, he accused the French state of "guilty complacency regarding industrial groups, whose disinformation was systematic".
In February, a French court found American biotech giant Monsanto guilty of poisoning French grain grower Paul François, who suffered neurological problems including memory loss, headaches and stammering after inhaling the Lasso weedkiller in 2004.
The difference, said Ms Murat, was that Mr François' disease was due to "an accident, whereas my father's death was due to the chronic use of grape pesticides over 40 years.
"Yet he only used these three times a year. The companies have always sworn that chronic inhalation in 'homoeopathic doses' posed no danger to human health. The inquiry will determine who was right and who was lying."
He lawyer said the case could be the first of many as around 40 legal complaints are currently under way concerning French farmers suffering from diseases they say are linked to pesticide use.
"We will never know how many farmers have put their health in danger these past decades. But I would say that only two per cent of those concerned have taken steps to obtain official recognition of their disease as linked to their profession," said Mr Lafforgue.
François Veillerette, spokesman for anti-pesticide NGO Générations Futures, said: "We hope this inquiry will be followed by a case that will herald the beginning of the end of impunity in this tragedy of pesticides."
France has pledged to cut pesticide use by 50 per cent between 2008 and 2018, but recently admitted it had failed to make headway, with initial results showing a meagre four per cent cut from 2008 to 2010.