French tomato grower with cancer takes on Monsanto over weedkiller

Weaving through the aisles of his greenhouse in northern France, Jean-Claude Terlet, a retired farmer who grows tomatoes for local markets, seems to be brimming with energy.

French tomato grower with cancer takes on Monsanto over weedkiller
Farmer and greengrocer Jean-Claude Terlet in his tomato greenhouse in Celles-sur-Aisne, northern France. Photo: AFP
“That's a beef tomato, they're delicious,” he says, showing off his produce which, he stresses, is 100 percent organic.
But since he was treated for prostate cancer in 2017, the 70-year-old says he feels constantly exhausted and has to deal with a host of other problems.
“No sex life, that's over. And I am completely incontinent and have to wear pads that I change two or three times a day… On a market that's pretty uncomfortable. I feel really diminished,” he said.
Convinced his illness was caused by exposure to chemicals, he asked for urine tests as soon as he was diagnosed.
Photo: AFP
Despite his hunch, the results still came as a shock.
They detected glyphosate, the chemical used in US biotech giant Monsanto's flagship weedkiller Round Up which some studies and the World Health Organization have labelled carcinogenic.
“I'm convinced that that's what caused my cancer,” Terlet told AFP, saying the chemical was found at levels of 0.25 micrograms per litre of blood and that the tests showed up no other chemicals or traces of medication.
Terlet has joined thousands of people around the world, most of them in the US, who are taking legal action against Monsanto for failing to warn users about the risks of using glyphosate.
The compensation bill could be steep.
A demonstration against industrial giants Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta in May in Paris. Photo: AFP
In a landmark ruling earlier this month, a California jury awarded a dying groundskeeper damages of almost $290 million (335 million euros) after finding Round Up caused his non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Monsanto's German parent company Bayer has vowed to appeal the ruling, saying it was “at odds with the weight of scientific evidence”.
But the victory of plaintiff DeWayne Johnson, feted by Monsanto's critics as a modern-day David battling a corporate Goliath, has heartened Terlet, who is hoping for a similar finding by a French court.
The French government, which has vowed to ban glyphosate by 2021, also hailed the “historic” ruling and called on the US and other EU countries to join the “war” against dangerous chemicals.
Claude Terlet. Photo: AFP
'Miracle' chemical
Terlet, a father-of-three from the village of Celles-sur-Aisne near Reims, a city in northeast France, was a devotee of Round Up — the world's most widely-used herbicide — for three decades.
He used it to kill weeds pushing up through the stubble left in his fields after the harvest.
“At the time, they presented glyphosate as being a miracle product.
Everyone was buying it!” he said.
While spraying his fields he wore only a cheap mask and gloves that failed to protect him from the fine mist that seeped into the cab of his tractor.
“We didn't realise the effects it could have in the medium- and long-term.
And now we're seeing them,” he said.
In May 2017, his lawyers filed a complaint with prosecutors in the southern city of Lyon, where Monsanto's parent company Bayer has its French headquarters, accusing it of “poisoning” the pensioner.
Next month, he will undergo tests to try establish whether his cancer is indeed linked to his use of the herbicide.
Photo: AFP
No EU ban yet 
He is not the first French farmer to take on Monsanto. 
In the first ruling of its kind against Monsanto anywhere in the world, a French court in 2012 found it guilty of poisoning cereal farmer Paul Francois who said he suffered neurological damage after inhaling fumes while using the now banned weedkiller Lasso.
But while France has announced plans to ban glyphosate and Germany wants to heavily curtail its use, the EU has so far refrained from withdrawing its licence.
Farming unions particularly have come out swinging against a ban, saying it would have a disastrous effect on agricultural yields because they have no replacement for it.
Terlet believes that all herbicides are harmful.
In his view, the only safe way to weed plants is by hand, “on condition that it costs less” so as not to harm farmers' livelihoods.
Aware that his battle against Monsanto will be long and costly, he has vowed not to back down.
“I'm stubborn, I'll fight it to the bitter end,” he said.

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French police to probe alleged Monsanto lists on opinion-makers

France has opened a preliminary enquiry into allegations that US pesticides maker Monsanto had information illegally collected on the views and pliability of hundreds of high-profile figures and media outlets.

French police to probe alleged Monsanto lists on opinion-makers
Activists from the 'Attac' protest group scale the offices of Bayer -which recently acquired Monsanto- in La Garenne Colombes near the financial district of La Defence on the outskirts of Paris. Photo
Paris judicial police will carry out the probe following a complaint by the daily Le Monde and one of its journalists, whose names appear on the list, the Paris prosecutor's office said.
Two anti-pesticide NGOs — Foodwatch and Generations Futures — are also preparing to lodge legal complaints over the alleged lists.
The investigators will look into the possible “collection of personal information by fraudulent, unfair or illicit means”.
US giant Monsanto allegedly had public relations agency FleishmanHillard draw up the files on the opinions of the targeted people and media bodies on the controversial weedkiller glyphosate and on genetically modified crops as 
well as their propensity to be influenced in their opinions.
Figuring on the list are politicians, scientists and journalists — including four from AFP (Agence France-Presse). Information was collected on their views on pesticides and on Monsanto as well as their leisure pursuits, addresses and phone numbers, according to the France 2 public television channel.
Some of the names were listed under categories such as “priority targets” and “potential allies to recruit”, according to reports.
France's former environment minister Segolene Royal, whose name was said to appear on the lists, said the allegation “says a lot about the methods of lobbyists… they carry out spying, infiltration, seek to influence, sometimes financially I imagine”, adding that other companies are likely to indulge in similar practices.
A spokesman for FleishmanHillard told AFP: “FleishmanHillard and our staff are committed to compliance with applicable laws and we are committed to the highest standards of ethical conduct. 
“We continue to take that responsibility very seriously and will carefully examine the questions raised by certain media outlets about the lists of stakeholders that included publicly available information.”
Glyphosate developer Monsanto was convicted in the United States in 2018 and 2019 of not taking necessary steps to warn of the potential risks of Roundup — their weedkiller containing the chemical, which two California juries found caused cancer in two users.
German pharmaceutical firm Bayer, which bought Monsanto last year, announced last month that over 13,000 lawsuits related to the weedkiller have been launched in the US.