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Pesticides Firm Hit With Record Fine

Enforcement: Scotts Miracle-Gro agrees to pay $10 million in criminal and civil penalties

by Cheryl Hogue
September 17, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 38

Credit: John Naman/
Scotts admitted to treating its bird food with a pesticide toxic to birds.
Tufted titmouse (bird) eating seed at a feeder.
Credit: John Naman/
Scotts admitted to treating its bird food with a pesticide toxic to birds.

Scotts Miracle-Gro will pay the largest criminal fine—$4 million—and the largest civil penalty—$6 million—ever assessed for violations of the federal pesticides law.

A major producer of pesticides for lawn and garden use that also sells wild bird food, Scotts agreed to the fines as part of a criminal plea agreement in a federal court case and a civil settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency. Both deals were finalized on Sept. 7.

In the criminal case, court papers show that the company pleaded guilty to 11 charges, including creating phony pesticide registration documents. A former employee who fabricated those registration documents between 2004 and 2007 has also pleaded guilty in a separate criminal case and awaits sentencing.

Scotts has admitted to having treated stored wild bird food with two insecticides not authorized for this use, including one labeled as toxic to birds, the court documents say. Two employees—a chemist and an ornithologist—warned the company in mid-2007 against using these pesticides on bird food, but Scotts continued the practice for six more months. In early 2008, Scotts voluntarily disclosed the problem to federal regulators and recalled the bird foods.

Under the plea agreement, Scotts will provide $500,000 to protect bird habitat in addition to paying the $4 million fine.

Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant U.S. attorney general for environment and natural resources, says the record-setting criminal fine under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) is appropriate for the world’s largest marketer of residential-use pesticides.

The civil case involves what EPA describes as widespread noncompliance with FIFRA at Scotts, covering less severe violations than the criminal case. Without admitting guilt, Scotts agreed to settle the allegations by paying the $6 million penalty and completing $2 million in projects to control runoff of agricultural chemicals.

The violations “do not reflect our core values,” James S. Hagedorn, Scotts chairman and chief executive officer, writes in a letter posted on the company’s website. “We have learned a lot from these unfortunate events, and new people and processes have been put in place to prevent them from happening again.”



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