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Daily News Archive
From June 29, 2006                                                                                                        

Avocados Sale on Hold after Aerial Spraying
(Beyond Pesticides, June 29, 2006) The California Agriculture Department placed a hold on the sale of 5,000 pounds of avocados that were grown on a county supervisor’s ranch after a county pesticide inspector found violations of farmworker protection standards, which led to the discovery of improperly treated avocados on the farm. An investigative unit with a local News 8 television station in San Diego County had its cameras rolling at 6:30 a.m. at the same time county inspectors found a helicopter spraying the insecticide abamectin (Agrimek) on a 22-acre avocado grove owned by County Supervisor Bill Horn and then discovered that avocados headed to market had been sprayed. The news report indicates that any fruit sprayed with Agrimek cannot be sold for two weeks.

According to the report, Mr. Horn applied for a county permit to spray the pesticide. This happened one week after News 8 submitted a public records request with the county, asking for copies of all pesticide permits for Mr. Horn's ranch. The news outlet had been investigating what was alleged to be substandard farmworker housing on the farm. The permit was approved and, according to the News 8 report, his operation seemed to be in accordance with his permit until the County Pesticides Inspector Ted Olsen noticed a farmworker driving a tractor through the grove after an aerial spraying event.

Mr. Olsen said, "Ideally what you don't want is anyone near the avocado grove, in the avocado grove, from the time it's sprayed, until the 12 hour restricted entry interval has expired." Mr. Olsen continued, it's right there in black and white on the pesticide label: "Do not allow workers into the area for 12 hours after spraying."

Under federal law, farmworkers are supposed to wear a protective suit, chemical resistant gloves and footwear, eyewear and headgear before entering a grove for 12 hours after spraying this pesticide. The worker was moving bins of avocados off the site when Mr. Olsen stopped him and told him about the safety concerns.

In the course of investigating the farmworker protection violation, the inspector discovered that there were several bins of picked avocados, sitting in the grove inside pesticide spray zone. The pesticide inspector found six bins, which contained more than 5,000 pounds of avocados, all located inside the spray zone.

The incident was reported to the state agriculture department and a hold was placed on the sale of Mr. Horn's avocados. Although a hold was placed on the sale of the produce, Supervisor Horn did not receive a citation, and he declined to be interviewed for this story. As for the avocados, they will have to be tested for pesticide residue or possibly held in cold storage for two weeks.