A potentially groundbreaking criminal investigation is set to be launched in France over claims that the death of a Bordeaux winemaker was caused by exposure to pesticides.

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The first steps towards a criminal prosecution came after Valerie Murat filed legal action over the the death of her father, claiming ‘involuntary homicide’.

James-Bernard Murat, a winemaker in Pujols in the Entre deux Mers region of Bordeaux, died of lung cancer in 2012. He believed the disease was caused by his use of a pesticide to protect against vine trunk disease esca for more than 40 years.

Valerie Murat filed her case at the Tribunal de Grande Instance (High Court) in Paris, where a judge will hold an inquiry to assess culpability. A defendant has not been publicly named, described solely as ‘X’.

The case is more evidence that French officials are paying closer attention to the health effects of pesticide exposure among workers. The government recognised a link between pesticides and Parkinson’s disease in agricultural workers in 2012.

Murat sprayed three different pesticides containing the chemical sodium ar nite that is now banned as a cancer causing poison.

One year before his death, he won recognition that the cancer was officially ‘linked to his profession’, one of up to 40 winemakers in France who have received this.

Ms Murat said she wanted to ‘break the law of silence’ over the effects of pesticides.

France accounts for around of quarter of all pesticide use in Europe. Vineyards represent just 3% of agricultural land in France, but the wine industry accounts for 20% of phytosanitary product volumes, and 80% of fungicide use.

Paul François, president of the association Phyto-Victimes, said: ‘This is a step forward not just for the Murat family but for all those affected by the application of pesticides within their profession.’

There is a national plan to reduce pesticide use in French agriculture, called Ecophyto 2018.

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