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From March 2, 2006                                                                                                        

FL Agriculture Department Rejects Ag-Mart Settlement; Parents Sue for Birth Defects
(Beyond Pesticides, March 2, 2006)
Florida state agriculture department has refused to accept a settlement from Ag-Mart, after charging the company with 88 counts of pesticide violations. Ag-Mart was fined $111,200 as a result of these violations, and offered to pay the department $25,000 less in the settlement. The pesticide violations stem from an investigation conducted by the Collier County Health Department and Florida department of Agriculture last September, that found a link between the pesticides sprayed by Ag-Mart on tomato fields, and after a number of babies were born with severe birth defects to farmworkers employed by the company. Although the investigation did not lead to any links between the birth defects and the pesticides used on the Ag-Mart tomato fields, it did shed light on a number of violations for worker safety protections from pesticides and residues. Florida was the first to sue Ag-Mart, followed by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, which fined Ag-Mart $184,500 for 369 pesticide violations.

The senior attorney with the Office of General Counsel turned down the Ag-Mart’s settlement offer, saying the case would be referred to the Division of Administrative Hearings, putting the decision about how much Ag-Mart would pay for its violations in the hands of an administrative law judge.

According to an article in Naples News, Ag-Mart's attorney David Stefany requested another meeting with Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services officials to continue discussions of a settlement. But the department declined.

Ag-Mart faces more legal trouble this week as the parents of one of the children born with severe birth defects has decided to sue. Francisca Herrera and Abraham Canderlario, farworkers who worked for Ag-Mart farms in Florida, are suing for unspecified damages. After working the in the fields while pregnant, Francisca gave birth to a son with no arms and no legs and spinal and lung abnormalities. The couple’s attorney, Andrew Yaffa, has said that this is only one of many pesticide related lawsuits he plans to file against the company.