French authorities have launched the first-ever criminal investigation of a pesticide-related death due to prolonged exposure of the chemicals for more than 40 years.
The case involves the “involuntary homicide” of James-Bernard Murat, a longtime Bordeaux grape grower in southwestern France who reportedly sprayed the grapes with pesticides annually until he died of lung cancer in 2012.
The pesticides Murat used all contained sodium arsenite, a chemical now banned because of its connection to cancer. Murat’s cancer was officially confirmed to be “linked to his profession” in 2011. While not the first to suffer from work-related cancer, Murat’s death does mark the first criminal investigation of such a death, charging the pesticide companies and the French government with fraud and failure to offer aid.
Lawyers for Murat’s daughter, Valérie, said the case “could open the door to hundreds of other cases both against pesticide producers, and perhaps the French state for negligence,” reports the Telegraph.
Murat’s daughter filed the complaint in April of this year and the criminal inquiry launched in June. She says her father used sodium arsenite-based pesticides approximately three times a year for 42 years (between 1958 to 2000) to ward off esca, a disease that comes by way of a fungus that attacks the trunks of grapevines.
“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 the newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur.
Ms. Murat’s lawyer points to the pesticide companies' labeling, which the plaintiff says did not indicate the serious risks and effects of inhaling the chemicals, nor the need to wear protective masks while using them.
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The case points not only to pesticide producers, but also to the French state for “guilty complacency regarding industrial groups, whose disinformation was systematic".
Murat’s case comes on the heels of a guilty verdict against multinational biotech company Monsanto, which produces the popular herbicide Roundup. In February, a French court ruled in favor of French grain grower Paul François who said his memory loss, headaches and neurological problems were directly related to inhaling the company’s weedkiller in 2004.
“France is Europe’s heaviest user of pesticides, spraying around 60,000 tons of a range of products on crops every year," notes the Telegraph. “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.” France says it plans to decrease pesticide use by 50 percent from 2008 to 2018.
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Vineyard image via Shutterstock