Vegetable Grower Fined

October 21, 2005 - 09:14

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Charles H. Bronson is taking legal action and levying fines against a Plant City, Fla.-based agricultural company for numerous violations of state and federal pesticide laws. He is seeking $111,200 in fines against Ag-Mart, Inc.

Though this is a produce grower, the legal action proves that state departments are cracking down on pesticide use. The Environmental Protection Agency has been working hard to prevent pesticide use in the United States from harming people, and state departments are making sure they are being enforced.

Bronson has filed two administrative complaints against Ag-Mart Produce, Inc. and four employees, alleging 88 separate counts of pesticide use violations on two different farms. The most serious counts involve violations of “pre-harvest intervals” and “restricted entry intervals.”

Pesticide labels state how soon after a pesticide application a crop can be harvested as well as how soon it is safe for workers to enter a field. Ag-Mart is accused of harvesting crops anywhere from one to five days after pesticide applications, despite a 7-day waiting period indicated on the label. The farms involved are located in Immokalee and Jennings, Fla. Although the investigation found evidence of harvesting before the waiting period expired, no illegal pesticide residues were identified on food crops in routine sampling from these farms.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is responsible for investigating all complaints of pesticide use violations and also conducts routine inspections of farms, nurseries and other agriculture entities to monitor for compliance with state and federal pesticide use and worker protection laws. The Department cooperatively provides a hotline through the Agency for Workforce Innovation for farm workers or their representatives to call to report any violations, (800) 633-3572.

The Department launched an investigation in March 2005 in conjunction with an investigation by the Collier County Health Department and the Florida Department of Health into the cause of three cases of birth defects in children born to mothers who worked for Ag-Mart. The Department has never received an official complaint about pesticide violations in this case, and agencies learned of the birth defects in news reports. The investigation into the birth defects is the responsibility of the Collier County Health Department and the Florida Department of Health; the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services focuses on pesticide rules and regulations. Bronson’s Department uncovered extensive violations of pesticide laws. However, the Department was unable to identify any instances of illness resulting from any of the pesticide use violations.

The employees involved are licensed pesticide applicators employed by Ag-Mart. Florida law says licensed applicators are responsible for the pesticide use activities and actions of individuals under their supervision.
The investigation also uncovered violations of the Worker Protection Standard, which requires pesticide applicators to wear certain protective equipment. In one instance, a worker did not wear protective eyewear while mixing an herbicide.

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