Historic damages award for French factory workers harmed by pesticides

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In a legal first in France, a court has awarded damages to two ex-employees of a Brittany animal feed firm after they were exposed to pesticides at work. The award is a milestone because it recognises that what is known as 'multiple chemical sensitivity' from pesticide exposure is an occupational disease, and lays the blame squarely with the employer. The ruling also recognises that agricultural workers can be affected even if they do not work in the fields. Jade Lindgaard reports.

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In the overwhelmingly agricultural region of Brittany in western France, Triskalia is a big name. It employs 4,800 people in its core business of services for livestock farmers and its food processing and retailing businesses, many of whose brands are household names in the country. It even has an environmental policy.

But on 22nd September 2016, the social security tribunal in Saint-Brieuc in northern Brittany ruled that the company's animal feed business, Nutréa Nutrition Animale, must pay two former employees over 100,000 euros each to compensate them for invalidity caused by exposure to pesticides at work. It was the final stage in a pioneering case to gain recognition that pesticide exposure and the suffering it causes are occupational hazards.
Laurent Guillou and Stéphane Rouxel were machine operators who unloaded lorries bringing raw materials to Nutréa's factory at Plouisy, near Guingamp. First in 2009, then again in 2010, they were exposed to dust from grain that had been treated with pesticides by Eolys, one of three agricultural cooperatives that merged to form Triskalia in 2010.