Organic farmer wins $1 million lawsuit

October 1, 2008 12:37:38 PM PDT
A Santa Cruz County organic herb grower who sued a pesticide company for violating its rights was awarded $1 million by a county jury.

Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo leases 120 acres of Wilder Ranch State Park where it grows dill, sage and rosemary. The farm brought a lawsuit against Western Farm Service, the company that applied the pesticide on neighboring farms, arguing the chemicals contaminated the culinary herbs, and therefore could not be harvested.

The chemical residue found on the herbs is not allowed whether grown conventionally or organically.

Jacobs Farm sought injunctive relief to stop Western Farm Service from spraying the chemicals and also asked for compensation for crop losses over two years.

"My clients are very happy. It's about time we got the attention of regulatory agencies on these crop losses," said Austin Comstock, Jacobs Farm attorney.

The pesticide company said it was properly applying the chemicals and once applied its responsibility ends there. But the organic farmers argued that these pesticides, known as organophosphates, volatize, or dry and evaporate, then the residue or dust travels elsewhere.

The pesticides used by the conventional farms surrounding Jacobs Farm, chlorpyrifos, diazinon and dimethoate, are legal for agricultural use, and registered pesticides according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.

Comstock sees this as a way to force chemical companies and regulatory agencies to reassess regulations surrounding pesticides and other chemicals.

"It's a shot across the bow to the chemical companies," Comstock said.

"The regulation process is controlled by the chemical companies, as far as I can tell. It's been business as usual over the years and they just don't find any fault,"

Veda Federighi, spokeswoman for the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, said the agency has no plans at reviewing the use of the chemicals.

" We have known for quite some time that off-target movement can happen in virtually any pesticide application," she said. "There is some drift in any pesticide application."

DPR has been encouraging farmers for years to find more organic means of pest control, she added.

"This is a difficult situation all the way around. In this sense, it was a particular local issue. This farm is surrounded by conventional farms, and the residues found their way on to his crop. This would not have been considered a health hazard were it not an organic crop," Federighi said.

Dale Dorfmeier, the attorney for Western Farm Services, said there may be an appeal, but that decision has not been made.


Load Comments