Photo credit: dgmiami / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND
The San Francisco Chronicle reported today on the fate of a Salinas, California man who is charged with fertilizer fraud. Peter Townsley, owner of California Liquid Fertilizer was sentenced to one year in federal prison followed by six months under house arrest at a halfway house where he will complete 1000 hours of community service as a volunteer at local organic farms. In addition, Townsley will have to pay $125,000 in fines, and after his time is served, he will be deported back to his native Canada.
Townsley had obtained approval for his leading product, Biolizer XN, in 1998 from regulators with the Organic Materials Review Institute. But in 2000 and 2001, Townsley changed the formula to include ingredients that were disallowed in organic fertilizers without changing the labels or alerting customers. Regulators caught up with the scheme in 2006, after Townsley had sold $6.5 million of the blend under an 'organic' label.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacey Geis commented that distributors who purchased the product were angry at the news. Geis went on to say that Townsley's sentence was too short, citing a similar case in Fresno in which the convicted party was sentenced to 6 years behind federal bars.
Californians don't have much of a sense of humor about inorganic products passed off as organic. Proposition 37 spoke directly to the issue and would have required GMO related products to be labeled as such. Prop 37 also carried strong language and penalties for any non-organic food that was labeled 'organic' and would have allowed for litigation against improper labeling without the burden of proving damages.
Proposition 37 was voted down, but the message in California is clear -- when the label says organic, consumers want to be able to trust that what they buy actually is organic. When that trust is broken, there are punitive penalties to pay.
(Click here for the SF Chronicle article)