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Monsanto to plead guilty, pay $12M for pesticide use

Company also stored banned pesticide on Maui and Molokai

Monsanto crew members count corn sprouts in a field of test hybrids in a breeding nursery near Kihei on Sept. 10, 2014. Monsanto is agreeing to plead guilty to 30 environmental crimes relating to the use of a pesticide on corn fields in Hawaii, as well as two charges related to the storage of a banned pesticide on Molokai and Maui, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday. The Maui News / MATHEW THAYER photos

The Maui News

Monsanto Co. is agreeing to plead guilty to 30 environmental crimes relating to the use of a pesticide on corn fields in Hawaii, as well as two charges related to the storage of a banned pesticide on Molokai and Maui, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

A plea agreement, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Honolulu, calls for the company to serve three years of probation and pay $12 million, including a $6 million criminal fine and $6 million in community service payments to four state agencies. For another three years, Monsanto also will continue a comprehensive environmental compliance program that includes a third-party auditor.

The agreement is subject to approval of U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright.

Monsanto admitted that it committed 30 misdemeanor crimes related to the use of a glufosinate ammonium-based product sold under the brand name Forfeit 280, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Central District of California.

A worker walks past a Monsanto corn field in Kihei in 2014. Monsanto is pleading guilty to 30 environmental crimes and pay $12 million after admitting that it used a glufosinate ammonium-based product on corn fields on Oahu in 2020, then allowed workers to enter the fields during a six-day “restricted-entry interval” after the product was applied, according to the the U.S. Department of Justice. Monsanto also stored the “restricted use pesticide” Penncap-M on Molokai and Maui.

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, the news release said.

By allowing workers to enter fields sprayed with Forfeit 280 to check the corn for weeds, insects and disease 30 times during the restricted entry period, the company violated a 2019 deferred prosecution agreement related to the storage of a banned pesticide, the news release said.

According to court documents, 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 deferred prosecution agreement 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 — methyl parathion, the active ingredient in Penncap-M — on research crops at one of its facilities on Maui.

“Monsanto is a serial violator of federal environmental laws,” U.S Attorney Tracy Wilkison of the Central District of California said in a statement. “The company repeatedly violated laws related to highly regulated chemicals, exposing people to pesticides that can cause serious health problems.”

Scot Adair, special agent in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal enforcement program in Hawaii, said in the news release that “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.”

No adverse health affects associated with the Hawaii pesticide-related matters have been reported to the company, Monsanto said in a news release Thursday.

“The conduct at issue in the agreement is unacceptable and contrary to the values and policies of the company, and we sincerely regret it,” Darren Wallis, vice president of communications, North America Crop Science, said in a statement. “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 multistep 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.”

In the 2019 case related to Penncap-M, Monsanto pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense of unlawfully spraying the banned pesticide on corn seed and research crops at its Valley Farm facility on Maui in 2014, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office news release. Monsanto admitted using Penncap-M, in violation of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, even though the company knew its use was prohibited after 2013 because of a “cancellation order” issued by the EPA, the release said. It said the company admitted that, after the 2014 spraying, it told employees to reenter the sprayed fields seven days later — even though Monsanto knew that workers should have been prohibited from entering the area for 31 days.

The two felony offenses covered by the deferred prosecution agreement, which Monsanto will plead guilty to, are the unlawful storage of an acute hazardous waste in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Penncap-M was a “restricted use pesticide” that could not be purchased or used by the public, and it could only be used by a certified applicator because of the possible adverse effects to the environment and injury to applicators or bystanders, according to the news release.

From March 2013 through August 2014, even though the pesticide was on the company’s lists of chemicals that needed disposal, Monsanto stored 160 pounds of Penncap-M hazardous waste at a facility on Molokai, the news release said. “Monsanto knew that Penncap-M had the substantial potential to be harmful to others and to the environment,” according to documents filed Thursday.

In addition to spraying the banned pesticide at one of its three facilities on Maui, Monsanto stored a total of 111 gallons of Penncap-M at Valley Farm and Maalaea and Piilani sites, according to court documents. As on Molokai, the storage of Penncap-M at the three Maui sites made Monsanto a “large quantity generator” of acute hazardous waste at the three locations, court documents said.

The news release said the company violated federal law when it failed to use a proper shipping manifest to identify the hazardous material and failed to obtain a permit to accept hazardous waste at its Valley Farm site when the company transported Penncap-M there in 2014.

In its prior guilty plea and deferred prosecution agreement, Monsanto paid $10.2 million.

The agencies that each will receive $1.5 million from the additional $6 million in community service payments are 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.

Monsanto agreed to have representatives appear in court to enter guilty pleas to the 32 offenses.

This case was investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division.

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