Maui Business

Monsanto Enters Plea Deal for Illegally Using Pesticide at Corn Growing Fields in Hawai‘i

December 9, 2021, 2:57 PM HST
* Updated December 10, 12:47 PM
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Monsanto Company agreed to plead guilty to 30 environmental crimes related to the use of a pesticide on corn fields in Hawaiʻi, according to information released today by the US Department of Justice and the US Environmental Protection Agency. The agreement is detailed in court documents filed today in Hawaiʻi.

The pesticide, glufosinate ammonium-based product sold under the brand name Forfeit 280, was used in 2020 on corn fields on Oʻahu. “Monsanto allowed workers to enter the fields during a six-day ‘restricted-entry interval’ after the product was applied,” according to an EPA press release.

According to the EPA and Justice Department, the company further 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 plea agreement calls for Monsanto to serve three years of probation, pay a total of $12 million and continue for another three years a comprehensive environmental compliance program that includes third-party auditor.

Of that payment, half will go towards community service payments in Hawaiʻi. Four Hawaiʻi 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.
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Maui Now reached out to Monsanto for comment on the plea. In a statement, Darren Wallis, Vice President of
Communications, North America Crop Science said:

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“The conduct at issue in the agreement is unacceptable and contrary to the values and policies of the company, and we sincerely regret it. 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 Hawaiʻi, and enhancing its training. Taken together, we are confident these measures will ensure legal compliance and will maintain our high safety standards.”

The US Department of Justice states: “As a result of the conduct in which Monsanto allowed workers on 30 occasions to enter fields sprayed with Forfeit 280 during the REI, the company violated a 2019 DPA related to the storage of a banned pesticide. According to the documents filed today, Monsanto will plead guilty to two felony charges filed in 2019 that the government would have dismissed if the company had complied with federal law.”

“In conjunction with the DPA related to the two felony charges of illegally storing an acute hazardous waste, Monsanto pleaded guilty in early 2020 to a misdemeanor offense of unlawfully spraying a banned pesticide – specifically methyl parathion, the active ingredient in Penncap-M – on research crops at one of its facilities on Maui,” according to the USDOJ.

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

Monsanto maintains: “No adverse health effects associated with the Hawaiʻi matters have been reported to the company.”

The company outlined details on the remedial actions it is taking to further enhance compliance controls. This includes:

  • Strengthening companywide pesticide use procedures, including procedures to ensure that all U.S. sites compare the labels of the products in their inventory with the US. EPA’s Pesticide Product Label System, conduct additional in season pre-use label comparisons, and require site-lead review and approval of pesticide use plans. Monsanto reaches agreement with US Government to resolve Hawaiʻi matters
  • Implementing a new multi-level approval process in Hawaiʻi to ensure compliance with labels for every pesticide. Monsanto has always required applicators to read and comply with these labels, but the new process adds several additional approvals, including by:
    • A second pesticide applicator
    • The Integrated Pesticide Management (IPM) Manager
    • Agronomy Lead
    • Site Management
  • Enhancing training for all Hawaiʻi employees to ensure compliance with applicable laws, including FIFRA and RCRA, and company policies.
    • Expanding Standard Operating Procedures in Hawaiʻi by adopting a new procedure for
  • Entry / Exit of Controlled Areas to address situations where one product may have multiple restricted entry intervals (REIs) depending on the activity and to clarify that the longer duration REI will govern all covered activity.
    • Creating new IPM roles in Hawaiʻi explicitly focused on overseeing and ensuring compliance, record keeping, equipment operations and uniformity across sites. This includes increasing the experience and skill requirements for IPM teams whose members also must be certified by the state of Hawaiʻi.
  • Creating a new internal group of experts in Hawaiʻi sites to work collaboratively to develop best practices.

“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 Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal enforcement program in Hawaiʻi. “Today’s plea agreement shows that EPA will hold responsible those who violate laws designed to protect communities from exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Mansanto has been operating in Hawaiʻi’s agricultural industry since the 1960s. In 2017, the company reportedly designated 1,500 acres of farmland on Oʻahu as Important Agricultural Lands, “ensuring the lands are preserved for active agricultural production in perpetuity.” The company also worked collaboratively to help establish the 220-acre Ag Park at Kunia, where local farmers are currently raising a variety of fruits and vegetables. The company reports it has donated more than $2 million to community organizations over the past 10 years. “The company continues to place the highest priority on the safety and wellbeing of its more than 600 employees and supporting local communities,” according to a company statement.

The sentence detailed in the court documents today are subject to the approval of United States District Judge J. Michael Seabright.

This case is the result of an investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division.

*Maui Now’s Wendy Osher contributed to this report.

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