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Updated on January 11, 2007

North Carolina Judge Dismisses Ag-Mart Pesticide Violation Charges
(Beyond Pesticides, January 11, 2007) A December ruling dismissed the majority of pesticide and worker abuse charges against Ag-Mart, grower of the Santa Sweets and Ugly Ripe brands of grape tomatoes. The state of North Carolina has been in the process of suing the company since 2005 after finding 369 violations of the state’s Pesticide Law and federal Worker Protection Standards, seeking $184,500 in fines from the company.

Ag-Mart has faced a slew of legal cases since 2004, after three of its Florida fieldworkers gave birth to babies with severe birth defects and the states of Florida, North Carolina and New Jersey charged the company with misuse of pesticides. The majority of violations are related to Ag-Mart breaching regulations designed to ensure worker and customer safety, including forcing employees to work in fields freshly sprayed with pesticides, which can damage the nervous system and cause birth defects, and harvesting tomatoes too soon after spraying, violating rules designed to keep consumers safe from pesticide residues in their food.

Though the ruling is a recommendation and non-binding, Ag-Mart will most likely take the North Carolina Pesticide Board, a seven-member group appointed by the governor, to court to appeal any fine they levy. State agriculture officials say that they will continue to pursue the case and that they will ask the Pesticide Board to ignore the judge's recommendation.

"If (pesticide investigators) had not had the evidence, they would not have gone forward," state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said. "The whole case has not been heard. We're going to stay with it."

North Carolina administrative law judge Beryl Wade made her recommendation based on claims by Ag-Mart that the work and pesticide application records, which showed workers in the fields during pesticide applications and during restricted “re-entry intervals,” were inaccurate. Ag-Mart officials said exact records of where employees work weren't kept and documents provided to the state were only educated guesses. She found that 275 of the 369 claims should be dismissed based on these inaccuracies, and limited the amount the state of North Carolina could fine Ag-Mart to a total of $500 for about 300 of the violations. However, Ag-Mart could still be fined $500 each for the remaining violations.

Source: Agricultural Resources Center: Pesticide Education Project

TAKE ACTION: Contact North Carolina’s Governor Easley and let him know that Ag-Mart should be held accountable for violating worker and consumer health. Additionally, you can boycott Ag-Mart by not buying Santa Sweets or Ugly Ripe brand tomatoes.

1-800-662-7952 valid in North Carolina only
(919)733-4240, or (919)733-5811.

Governor Michael F. Easley
Office of the Governor
20301 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-0301