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Monsanto enters plea agreement, accepts $12M fine in Hawaii pesticide case

The Monsanto Company pleaded guilty in federal court this morning to two felonies, 30 misdemeanors and agreed to pay a $12 million fine for environmental crimes related to the use of a pesticide on corn fields in Hawaii and illegal storage of a banned pesticide.

United States District Judge J. Michael Seabright read through the plea agreement with attorneys for Monsanto and the federal government. He thanked them for the comprehensive agreement after approving it.

“I’m sure you folks spent a lot of time together negotiating this,” said Seabright, speaking in U.S. District Court-District of Hawaii.

On Dec. 9, the agrochemical company agreed to plead guilty to illegally using and storing pesticides in Hawaii and pay $12 million in fines. The money is due in two weeks, according to the court proceeding.

“Monsanto is pleased that a federal District Court in Hawaii has approved its agreement with the Department of Justice to fully resolve separate pesticide-related matters at its farms in Hawaii,” said Monica Ivey, corporate relations lead with Bayer, Monsanto’s parent company, in a statement to the Star-Advertiser. “We will continue to implement our remedial actions and enhanced controls to ensure that pesticide applications on our farms in Hawaii and elsewhere are done safely and effectively. We have long supported a strong, healthy, and sustainable agricultural industry across the Hawaiian Islands, and we remain committed to the community and our employees.”

Monsanto agreed to plead guilty to 30 misdemeanor environmental crimes after workers were allowed to go into corn fields in 2020 on Oahu after glufosinate ammonium-based product named Forfeit 280 was sprayed on the fields.

Federal law prohibits people from entering areas where the chemical is sprayed within six days of application, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Monsanto will pay $6 million in criminal fines, and $6 million in community service payments.

The community service payments will be broken up between four state of Hawaii agencies.

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, will each receive $1.5 million, according to the plea agreement.

Monsanto will serve three years of probation and participate in a comprehensive environmental compliance program that includes third-party auditor.

Monsanto admitted that it violated the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), which regulates the registration, sale, distribution and use of pesticides, by failing to comply with Forfeit 280’s labeling on Oahu farms in Lower Kunia and Haleiwa, according to a Dec. 9, Justice Department news release.

The two felonies are related to the unlawful storage of an acute hazardous waste in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), according to court documents.

Penncap-M was a “restricted use pesticide” and from March 2013 through August 2014, Monsanto stored 160 pounds of Penncap-M on Molokai.Monsanto also stored 111 gallons of Penncap-M at Valley Farm and two other sites in Maalaea and Piilani, according to DOJ.

The 2019 Deferred Prosecution Agreement and the prior guilty plea forced Monsanto to pay $10.2 million in fines and community service payments. A $6 million criminal fine, a $200,000 fine for the FIFRA offense, and $4 million in community service payments to support education, training and environmental protection programs run by Hawaii government agencies.

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