$1 Million Award In Drift Case Raises Concerns

A jury has awarded $1 million to an organic farm in Santa Cruz, CA, whose edible herbs were contaminated by organophosphate pesticides that the grower contended were sprayed on nearby farmlands. The decision could have far-reaching ramifications for ag retailer applicators.

The award raises troubling questions for the future use of organophosphates, says the supplier of the pesticides, Western Farm Service, because even after it had ceased spraying, residues were found on the organic herbs. The company, which said it is likely to appeal last week’s verdict by a Santa Cruz County Superior Court jury, said it followed standards on the product labels and county agricultural permits when applying the chemicals.

Assessing the uses and risks of pesticides should be the job of federal, state and county regulators, not local juries, Western Farm Service said in a statement. It addition, it said the verdict "raises concerns about (the) future use of organophosphates in California," because there was no evidence of spray drift from the neighboring field where conventionally grown Brussels sprouts were treated.

"Although the evidence showed no basis to conclude that the applicator caused spray drift to leave the target site, movement form post application dust raised by the strong local coastal winds, from coastal fogs which accumulated the evaporated organophosphates, and to a certain extent regional background levels caused by areawide growers, all contributed to this inadvertent residue problem," Western Farm Service stated in a press release.

Dale Dorfmeier, attorney for Western Farm Services, says the commissioner’s office, not the jury, interpreted the law correctly. "What this jury decision says is, one that sells or applies this product is going to be responsible for post-application movement of this material, regardless of whether it’s under their control or not," he says. "This is movement by wind or fog lift off that happens days or weeks after we do a safe application."

Western Farm Service is part of Agrium Inc. Read a copy of the Western Farm Service press release.

(Sources: mercurynews.com, Western Farm Service)

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