The Environmental Protection Agency has fined Monsanto $2.5 million for misbranding violations related to the sale and distribution of Bt cottonseed. The civil administrative penalty settlement, which falls under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, was announced July 8.

The violation is related to the planting of Bollgard and Bollgard II cottonseed in 10 counties in the Texas Panhandle prior to 2007, when such planting was not allowed due to insect resistance management considerations. Corn was the predominant crop in the 10 counties, and corn producers there had requested a 20 percent structured refuge instead of the 50 percent structured refuge required in other parts of Texas and other cotton growing regions.

EPA agreed to the 20 percent refuge, with the condition that Monsanto’s grower guide would include a statement prohibiting planting Bt cotton in the 10 counties. Monsanto’s grower guide failed to include the required language.

Monsanto discovered the error in 2006 and self-reported the oversight to EPA. Monsanto then corrected the grower guides by including the required planting restriction for the Bollgard and Bollgard II products. Monsanto said it “immediately implemented an extensive outreach program to Texas seed companies, growers, retailers, Extension agents, and cotton specialists to highlight the restriction in the 10 counties.”

Monsanto said that a subsequent evaluation “showed that no resistance had occurred in these counties.”

EPA’s investigation confirmed that between 2002 and 2007, the company distributed or sold the cotton products more than 1,700 times nationwide without the planting restrictions in its grower guides and that Bollgard and Bollgard II cotton was planted in the restricted counties.

“This agreement shows that when a company violates the law by distributing misbranded pesticides, EPA will take action,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “The regulated community should understand that we take these violations seriously, and the public will accept nothing less than compliance.”

“People who manufacture and distribute pesticide products must follow the federal registration requirements,” said Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “These requirements are critical to preventing the development and spread of insect resistance.”

In September 2008, EPA lifted the planting restriction in the 10 Texas counties for Bollgard II, after Monsanto applied for a change in the registration of that product.

In May 2010, Monsanto entered into a consent agreement with EPA’s enforcement office regarding the case. The $2.5 million settlement was not final until approved by the Environmental Appeals Board.

“We take full responsibility for this oversight, and we are committed to compliance with the terms of our EPA registrations,” said John Chambers, Monsanto lead for cotton product management.

“As a result of this matter, we have implemented new internal review processes to prevent such errors in the future,” said Rob Nixon, Monsanto lead for stewardship.

The 10 Texas counties were Carson, Dallam, Hansford, Hartley, Hutchison, Lipscomb, Moore, Ochiltree, Roberts and Sherman. More on the agreement go to: http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/civil/fifra/monsanto-infosht.html.

e-mail: erobinson@farmpress.com