The French farmers fighting the deadly pesticide taboo

Last month, French cereal farmer Paul François, 47, won a lengthy legal battle against US biotech giant Monsanto in a landmark ruling by a court in Lyon that could open a floodgate of complaints by farmers for chemical poisoning. François was found to have become severely handicapped as a direct result of his contamination by Lasso, a powerful herbicide produced by Monsanto. France is Europe’s biggest user, by volume, of pesticides, and worldwide only India and the United States use more. For François and other campaigners seeking to alert farmers to the dangers of chemical-based phytosanitary products, their battle targets not only the clout of the industrial lobby and a reluctance of the medical profession to recognise the illnesses caused by pesticides, but also a silent taboo among the farming community itself. Claire Le Nestour reports.

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On April 27th 2004, Paul François, a cereal farmer from the Charente region of western France, was preparing to spread herbicide over his field of rape seed. He had not long finished spraying a corn field with Lasso, a weedkiller produced by US biotech giant Monsanto and which has been used by thousands of farmers around the world since the 1960s.