(Beyond Pesticides, October 1, 2008) Last week, a jury awarded $1 million in compensation to an organic farm in Santa Cruz, California, whose herbs were contaminated by pesticides. The jury found that organophosphate pesticides, used on vegetables on neighboring farms, drifted onto the organic farm, leaving the herbs in violation of organic standards.
The organic farm, Jacobs Farm Del Cabo, filed a lawsuit against the pesticide application company Western Farm Service, Inc. in May 2007. The suit sought an order to stop Western Farm Service from spraying pesticides that contaminate crops at Wilder Ranch State Park, where Jacobs Farm leases 120 acres. Compensation for losses, in the sum of $1 million, which resulted from pesticide contamination, was also sought. The court ruled that pesticide applications by Western Farm Service resulted in trespass of the pesticides onto Jacobs Farm and were legally determined to be a nuisance depriving Jacobs Farm of the right to use and enjoy the land, caused by negligence on the part of Western Farm Services. The jury found that Jacobs Farm was damaged in the sum of $1 million and Judge Robert Atack ordered judgment in that amount against Western Farm Service.
The organophosphates, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and dimethoate, were applied to Brussels sprouts and then evaporated and drifted onto organically cultivated culinary herbs including sage, rosemary and dill at Jacob Farm. The farm first discovered trace residues of chlorpyrifos and diazinon in October 2006 and management immediately stopped harvesting the affected crops. The use of organophosphates and other pesticide chemicals are prohibited in organic farming. The farm notified the County Agriculture Commissioner and the state Department of Pesticide Regulation, which said they found no violations. It also contacted Western Farm Service, which promised to take precautions against windblown contamination.
Western Farm Services said it is likely to appeal the verdict, saying they followed standards on the product labels and county agricultural permits when applying the pesticides. The company argues that Jacobs Farm should not have come into an area where conventional farming was taking place with its “incompatible crops.” In their statement, Western Farm Services said that assessing the uses and risks of pesticides should be the job of federal, state and county regulators, not local juries. It also said the verdict “raises concerns about future use of organophosphates in California.”
“The scientific community’s growing knowledge of how these chemicals move in the environment after application was not considered by pesticide applicators or government regulators. Regulations prohibiting the continued application of pesticides that damage crops on other farms are in place. But until now, these prohibitions did not apply to damage from pesticides when they evaporate after they are applied,“ said Larry Jacobs, president of Jacobs Farm Del Cabo.
According to Nathan Benjamin, an attorney for the organic farm, neither federal nor state regulations account for the environmental characteristic of organophosphates or provide any protection for organic farmers. The jury verdict signaled the need for regulations to protect growers against volatile pesticides that can drift after they are applied.
Under the organic regulations, only naturally-derived pesticides may qualify for inclusion (if they meet the organic standards), and the inert ingredients must also be on the National Organic Standards approved list of inerts. The use of synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, and irradiation is prohibited in organic production.
Organophosphates (OPs) like chlorpyrifos have been found to remain in the air at very high concentrations 24hrs after application. Residues remain on plant surfaces for approximately 10 to 14 days. Data indicate that OPs can accumulate in certain crops and persist in the environment. OPs were the first group of chemicals to go through tolerance reassessment under the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act because they are known to pose risks of acute and chronic toxicity to humans as well as wildlife. They are also considered to be the most likely pesticide to cause an acute poisoning.
Source: Environmental News Service, San Francisco Chronicle