$4.5 million fine US industrial for distributing contaminated birdseed
Highlights need for constant monitoring
February 2012: Gardening company Scotts Miracle-Gro has pleaded guilty to charges of distributing insecticide-tainted bird seed, highlighting the need for continued monitoring of the safety of bird seed supply in the US, says American Bird Conservancy (ABC).
|SAFE TO EAT? Bird seed covered in insecticide |
presents a hidden threat to birds such as
these American goldfinches. Picture: ABC
In April 2011, ABC announced the results of its independent bird seeding testing efforts that were undertaken as a result of sporadic wild bird seed contamination incidents. The study analysed samples taken from four different supply sources across the country: Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes, and Target.
Random tests on bird feed
Bird seed was randomly purchased from the stores and then tested at the California Food Safety Laboratory at the University of California, Davis. The studies specifically looked for harmful pesticides, such as organophosphate and carbamate insecticides.
‘We found that all of the tested bird seed was either free from pesticides or that pesticides occurred at only trace levels that would not threaten bird health. For the safety of the billions of birds that are fed by millions of Americans at backyard feeders, and in the light of this recent case against Scotts, this is clearly an issue that requires greater public attention,' said George Fenwick, president of ABC.
Insecticide was labelled: 'Toxic to birds. Toxic to wildlife'
According to court records, in 2008, Scotts distributed 73 million packages of birdseed coated with the insecticides Storcide II and Actellic 5E (containing the active ingredient chlorpyrifos and pirimiphos-methyl respectively), intended to keep insects from destroying the seed. They did this despite being alerted to toxicity dangers by a staff chemist and ornithologist. Storcide II is even labelled as ‘Toxic to birds. Toxic to wildlife,' and adds: ‘Exposed treated seed may be hazardous to birds.'
No such warning exists on the Actellic 5E label, however. The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) own fact sheet on pirimiphos-mehtyl states that ‘Ecological risks are not of concern to the Agency. 'Yet the same fact sheet also says: ‘Although pirimphos-methyl is highly toxic to birds and fish, these risks are not of concern based on the use pattern of pirimiphos-methyl.' Clearly the EPA did not anticipate this chemical to be used on anything intentionally fed to birds.
‘EPA needs to amend the use label for Actellic 5E and any other pesticide containing the same active ingredient, pirimiphos-methyl, to agree with their own fact sheet, and ensure that no other birds are poisoned by seed dosed with this toxic chemical,' said Fenwick. ‘This highlights a key problem that pesticide labels are written by the pesticide registrant, not EPA. In some cases, it would seem that EPA is not effectively checking that the labels encompass the agency's responsibilities for birds.'
The plea agreement that will result in Scotts paying $4.5 million (£2.8 million) in fines must still be approved by the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.