On September 7, 2012, EPA announced the largest ever criminal fine and civil penalty, a combined $12.5 million enforcement action, under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), which regulates the manufacture, distribution, sale, and use of pesticides in the United States.
The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company plead guilty to 11 criminal violations under FIFRA arising from the illegal application of pesticides to Scotts’ bird food product (to prevent insect infestation during storage), falsifying registration documents, and illegal distribution of misbranded and unregistered pesticides. The company’s plea agreement involved a $4 million criminal fine and a $500,000 environmental project.
During a parallel civil proceeding, EPA Region 5 initiated an investigation focusing on similar violations over a five-year time span pertaining to more than 100 Scotts’ products. The company’s civil settlement requires that Scotts pay a $6 million civil settlement and $2 million Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP). EPA also issued more than 40 Stop Sale, Use or Removal Orders to the company. EPA alleged that Scotts distributed or sold millions of units of unregistered, improperly labeled, and improperly formulated pesticides, including:
- Submitting false registration documents;
- Distributing or selling unregistered or cancelled pesticides, along with pesticides whose compositions and claims that differed from those approved by EPA;
- Using false or misleading statements, inadequate warnings, and related misbranding violations; and
- Importing pesticides into the country without proper documentation.
Nationwide, FIFRA enforcement is on the rise. In FY 2012 alone, EPA has initiated approximately 142 FIFRA enforcement cases; more than half of those coming in Region 7 (36 cases), Region 4 (32 cases), and Region 5 (24 cases). In Region 7, three companies recently settled allegations pertaining to the improper sale and distribution of plant growth regulators, with civil fines exceeding $235,000 for one of the companies.
Businesses that manufacture, distribute, sell, import, and use pesticides, such as Pesticide manufacturers, turf care companies, farm cooperatives, and lawn and garden supply stores need to pay particular attention to pesticide labeling and branding to ensure that their activities satisfy the FIFRA regulatory regime.