(Beyond Pesticides, June 4, 2009) Five onion growers in the state of Oregon have been issued civil penalties totaling $180,000 by the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) for using pesticide products not approved for onions. According to the department, the violations resulted from gross negligence and willful misconduct by the pesticide users, who were fined the maximum penalty. The penalties reflect the new broader authority to impose higher penalties for pesticide violations.
The sanctions levied in this case are as a result of the use of the new authority granted to the ODA by the 2007 Legislature in fining Oregon growers $10,000 per violation. The department must determine a violation was willful and negligent to issue the $10,000 maximum fine. The previous maximum fine in Oregon was $1,000 for a first violation and $2,000 for a repeat violation. The Oregon growers were fined the maximum in 18 infractions. ODA tested 86 samples of soil, weeds, onion foliage and bulbs from 60 fields in uncovering 18 positive tests. The investigations were initiated based on a tip.
The pesticides, bentazon (trade name Basagran) and carbofuran (trade name Furadan), were illegally used on 18 fields during the 2008 growing season, and were found to have levels of pesticide residue for either one of the products, two with levels of carbofuran and 16 fields with levels of bentazon. Two fields worth of onions were destroyed voluntarily by the farmers. The pesticides are not registered for use on onions.
A 2006 investigation uncovered evidence that more than a dozen Oregon growers misused Furadan on onions. A pesticide dealer was also fined $89,910 for selling Furadan to an unlicensed applicator 81 times over a 30-month period. Following those incidents, the state legislature granted the ODA authority to increase the dollar amount it can fine growers for off-label pesticide application. Onion shippers are also considering imposing mandatory testing on all onions at the growers’ expense to ensure no illegal materials are present.
Carbofuran is a toxic insecticide that does not meet current U.S. food safety standards. Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revoked regulations that permit residues of the pesticide carbofuran in food. EPA’s action will eliminate residues of carbofuran in food, including all imports, in a move to protect people, especially children, from dietary hazards. The action will also force the removal this pesticide from the market.
Bentazon is a selective herbicide associated with human and environmental health impacts including some developmental toxicity effects as seen in rats and rabbits, and poses a chronic reproductive health risk to birds.