Probe into winegrower's death after using pesticide in vineyard
Published 10/07/2015 | 02:30
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 account for only 3pc 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 Observateur' magazine.
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".
He 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. (© Daily Telegraph London)