The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles Thursday said Monsanto Company agreed to plead guilty to 30 environmental crimes related to the use of a pesticide on corn fields in Hawaii.

The company also agreed to plead guilty to two other charges related to the storage of a banned pesticide that were the subject of a 2019 deferred prosecution agreement.

The 30 misdemeanor crimes involved the use of a glufosinate ammonium-based product sold under the brand name Forfeit 280.

All told, the financial penalty for Monsanto totals $22.2 million.

Monsanto Tour off of Kunia Road cover crop Buckwheat. The cover crop is mainly to keep soil together and prevent erosion.
Monsanto, whose holdings include land off Kunia Road on Oahu, was fined more than $22 million Thursday for pesticide use violations. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

The case comes from an investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division.

“After using the product in 2020 on corn fields on Oahu, Monsanto allowed workers to enter the fields during a six-day ‘restricted-entry interval’ after the product was applied,” according to press releases from the DOJ and the EPA.

The joint press releases are based on court documents filed Thursday in Hawaii. The plea agreement calls for Monsanto to serve three years of probation, pay $12 million and continue for another three years a comprehensive environmental compliance program that includes a third-party auditor.

“Monsanto is a serial violator of federal environmental laws,” said United States Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison. “The company repeatedly violated laws related to highly regulated chemicals, exposing people to pesticides that can cause serious health problems.”

“The defendant in this case failed to follow regulations governing the storage of hazardous wastes and the application of pesticides, putting people and the environment at risk,” said Scot Adair, special agent in charge of the EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Hawaii.

‘Lack Of Oversight’

In the documents filed Thursday, Monsanto admitted that “due to a lack of oversight and supervision by Monsanto,” its workers violated a change to the restricted-entry interval period after the spraying of Forfeit 280.

Monsanto violated the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act — which regulates the registration, sale, distribution and use of pesticides — by failing to comply with Forfeit 280’s labeling. Monsanto illegally used the chemical on Oahu facilities in Lower Kunia and Haleiwa.

Under the 2019 deferred prosecution agreement, which stemmed from the spraying of the banned pesticide Penncap-Mon on corn seed and research crops at its Valley Farm facility on Maui in 2014, Monsanto agreed to pay $10.2 million: a $6 million criminal fine, a $200,000 fine for the FIFRA offense and $4 million in community service payments to Hawaii government agencies.

As part of the latest agreement, Monsanto agreed to pay an additional $6 million criminal fine and an additional $6 million in community service payments. Four state of Hawaii agencies will receive $1.5 million payments:

  • the Department of Agriculture, Pesticide Use Revolving Fund – Pesticide Disposal Program/Pesticide Safety Training;
  • the Department of the Attorney General, Criminal Justice/Investigations Division;
  • the Department of Health, Environmental Management Division, to support environmental-health programs; and
  • the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Aquatic Resources.

The sentence is subject to the approval of U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright in Honolulu.

Monsanto later issued its own press release on the matter, which read in part:

“The conduct at issue in the agreement is unacceptable and contrary to the values and policies of the company, and we sincerely regret it,” said Darren Wallis, vice president of communications for North America Crop Science. “To ensure proper compliance, the company is taking significant remedial actions to enhance its controls, including strengthening its policies and procedures that now require a robust and multi-step approval process to authorize the use of pesticides on fields in Hawaii, and enhancing its training. Taken together, we are confident these measures will ensure legal compliance and will maintain our high safety standards.”

The release also said that “No adverse health effects associated with the Hawaii matters have been reported to the company.”

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