(Beyond Pesticides, August 6, 2015) On July 28, the California Department of Pesticide (DPR) released a statement announcing recent sanctions for six California import firms who repeatedly violated pesticide regulations. Since December of last year, these six firms have been selling imported products that have been tainted with pesticides not approved for production or sale in the United States, including DDE, imidacloprid, chlorpyrifos, and the long-banned endosulfan. The fines range from $10,000 to $21,000.
Top Quality Produce, Inc. 623 Vineland Avenue, La Puente, CA 91746 will pay $10,000. On 5 separate occasions, the company sold produce such as Longan imported from Thailand, Burdock Root imported from Taiwan and Lychees imported from China with illegal pesticide residues. The produce was sold between November 2013 and July 2014.
Yi Bao Produce Group, 3015 Leonis Blvd, Vernon CA 90058, will pay $15,000. On 7 separate occasions, the company sold produce imported from China such as Ginger, Taro Root, Longan and Fragrant Pear with illegal pesticide residues. The produce was sold between March 2013 and September 2014.
Primary Export International Inc. 143 Mitchell Ave., South San Francisco, CA 94080, will pay $9,000. On 5 separate occasions, the company sold produce imported from China including Longan and Lychees with illegal pesticide residues. The produce was sold between June 2013 and August 2014.
Marquez Produce 2155 E. 14th Street Los Angeles CA90021 will pay $21,000. On 7 separate occasions, the company sold produce imported from Mexico such as Cactus Leaves, Tomatillos and Squash with illegal pesticide residues. The produce was sold between April 2013 and May 2014.
La Sucursal Produce, Inc. 746 S. Central Ave., Unit A-3-128, Box 50, Los Angeles, CA 90021, will pay $12,000. On 5 separate occasions, the company sold produce imported from Mexico such as Tomatillos, Cactus Pears and Cactus Leaves with illegal pesticide residues. The produce was sold between August 2013 and July 2014.
V&L Produce, Inc. 2550 E. 25th Street, Vernon, CA 90058, will pay $6,000. On 4 separate occasions, the company sold produce imported from Mexico such as Purslane, Cactus Leaves and Mexican Squash with illegal pesticide residues. The produce was sold between April 2013 and October 2014.
The list of discovered pesticides on these crops is endless. La Sucursal‚Äôs tomatillos were found with traces of chlorpyrifos (a Dow AgroSciences insecticide that is prohibited from residential use by EPA), their cactus pears with chlorpyrifos, monocrotophos, carbendazim, malathion, and dimethoate. Top Quality Produce, Inc.‚Äôs longan contained carbendazim, chlorpyrifos, cypermethrin, difenoconazole, and dimethoate. Their burdock root was found to have DDE (a metabolite of DDT). Yi Bao Produce Group‚Äôs ginger was found to have traces of aldicarb sulfoxide, cyromazine, and endosulfan (known to cause endocrine disruption and toxicity to birds and aquatic organisms). Yi Bao‚Äôs longan crop also contained imidacloprid, which is a bee-toxic neonicotinoid. According to an email from a California DPR official, some of these were found above the EPA established tolerances, some are pesticides that have no established tolerances for that particular crop, and some of them are not permitted at all on any crop by U.S. law.
In DPR‚Äôs statement, they explained that ‚ÄúDPR inspectors traced this tainted produce back to these six import companies. In each case, DPR warned the importers about the risk of selling such produce in California. However subsequent investigations showed that the companies continued to import produce from the same suspect sources and sell the tainted food in California. When illegal pesticide residues were found, DPR immediately ordered the produce destroyed and/or quarantined.‚ÄĚ
These six firms were told repeatedly what the consequences might be like if they continued using the products of companies known for using pesticides above U.S. limits. Three of these firms have violations dating back to 2010. While some of these pesticides were applied legally in the country of origin, the United States has an import tolerance on unregistered pesticide-food combinations where there is no U.S. tolerance in existence. According the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a tolerance (called a Maximum Residue Limit or MRL in Canada and many other countries) is the maximum residue level of a pesticide permitted in or on food or feed grown in the U.S. or imported into the U.S. from other countries. Import firms that buy and sell crops in the United States that exceed those maximum residue limits are at risk for fines. Repeat violators face higher fines that first offenders. And EPA tolerances continuously receive exemptions to protect industry leaders. Additionally, tolerance levels are sometimes expanded and raised based on EPA reviews, even in the case of known toxic pesticides. In 2013, EPA ‚Äútemporarily‚ÄĚ granted an exemption for endosulfan on imported Chinese tea. Not even one year ago, Greenpeace discovered that 94% of tea samples from India were tainted with European Union (EU) banned pesticides. That exemption is still in effect today. The brands selling these teas do not only cater to domestic consumers. Many of the brands are popular in other parts of the world.
DPR’s policy is to pursue settlement possibilities in cases where they believe the company has not acted in bad faith in committing the violations and has fully cooperated with our investigation in the matter; yet, repeat violators are only facing monetary sanctions without suspension.
While the California DPR tests California food, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for federal food testing. FDA make testing for pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables for human consumption seem like a top priority; yet, rarely performs their due diligence when it comes to foreign, imported products. That diligence is an important protocol to ensure the safety of humans consuming those crops. A report by Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that FDA tested relatively few targeted samples (one-tenth of one percent of all imported fruits and vegetables to be exact) for pesticide residues and furthermore discovered that FDA does not test for several commonly used pesticides with an EPA established tolerance, including glyphosate. ¬†The report is also critical of U.S. Department of Agriculture‚Äôs (USDA) testing, finding limitations in its data: ‚Äúspecifically, for this period, FSIS did not test meat, poultry, and processed egg products for all pesticides with established EPA tolerance levels. Like FDA, FSIS is not required by law to test the foods it samples for specific pesticides, but disclosing this limitation in annual reports would meet OMB reporting best practices. Since 2011, FSIS has increased the number of pesticides it has tested for and samples it has taken and engaged with EPA on changes to FSIS’s monitoring program to better provide EPA with data it needs to assess the risks of pesticides.‚ÄĚ
While enforcement action is a critical piece in protecting public health and the environment, advocates point to the use of warnings, repeated violations, and low fines. ¬†These producers knowingly, after being repeatedly warned, exposed consumers to pesticides that are so toxic that they have been banned for use on these food products. To put these fines in context, California Governor Jerry Brown has proposed fines of $10,000 for residents and businesses that waste water. Advocates say pesticide offenses like these need to be met with fines that cannot just be considered a cost of doing business –they must be large enough to cause the businesses to change their practices. This judgment also provides proof that EPA banned pesticides are still entering our food supply. Pesticide use in conventional agriculture does not just affect consumers. Beyond the impacts that residues of pesticides have ¬†on ¬†people who eat food grown with chemical-intensive practices, the pesticides used in conventional food production can also have devastating impacts where they are used, ¬†poison farmworkers, and cause ¬†cancer, ¬†Parkinson‚Äôs, and other chronic diseases in rural communities. ¬†Children of farmworkers ¬†are also at elevated risk.
For more information on the health effects of pesticide exposure, see Beyond Pesticides‚Äô Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database. To learn more about pesticides and the foods you eat, see Beyond Pesticides‚Äô ¬†Eating with a Conscience. For more information on organic food production, see Beyond Pesticides‚Äô ¬†Organic Agriculture webpage.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.