The Paris Prosecutor's Office has launched a preliminary investigation into a leaked file allegedly assembled by the American agrochemical company Monsanto to lobby its interests.
The company, which was purchased by Bayer for $63 bln in 2018, is reportedly facing accusations of illegally collecting personal data of people who criticised it or filed complaints against it, reported Le Figaro on Friday.
The probe was opened after a complaint filed by the French daily Le Monde that cites several deputies, as well as representatives of non-governmental organisations and the media.
Earlier, Le Monde and France 2 TV obtained a list of some 200 politicians, journalists, scientists, heads of trade unions and public organisations.
The leaked document reportedly contained detailed personal data, including phone numbers and addresses, as well as information about their stance regarding the substance glyphosate and extended permit to sell it – the subject of heated EU debates, pesticides and genetically modified products.
The document, according to le Monde, was leaked by U.S public relations and marketing agency FleishmanHillard, and was dated 2016, at the time of a merger deal with German Bayer against the backdrop of the glyphosate row.
"FleishmanHillard and our staff are committed to compliance with applicable laws and we are committed to the highest standards of ethical conduct," the firm said in a statement.
"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."
Le Monde points out that harvesting any personal database, including a person’s political and philosophical views, without their consent is prohibited in France.
Glyphosate is the key ingredient in Monsanto's top product Roundup. Shortly after Bayer's purchase of Monsanto was finalised last year, a California court awarded $289 million to a school groundskeeper who claimed that the herbicide had been responsible for his cancer. The amount was later reduced to $78.5 bln and the company continues to contest the court's decision, insisting that the US Environmental Protection Agency has deemed the herbicide safe.
Meanwhile, thousands of other Roundup users in the US have filed similar suits from customers who have cancer and attribute it to the weedkiller.
In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer ruled that glyphosate – the active chemical in Roundup and many other weedkillers – was “probably carcinogenic”.
In turn, the European Food Safety Agency has been arguing that it hasn't been proven that this substance constitutes a health hazard.
The permit for the use of the chemical in the EU agribusiness sector was extended for five years in 2017.