At Least One Problem Solved
The state Senate helped fix one of California’s many problems on September 3 — increasing oversight of the organic fertilizer industry.
On a unanimous vote, the upper house sent AB 856 to the Assembly for a final vote. It is likely to b signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger since it is supported by both his Department of Finance and Department of Food and Agriculture.
A major component of the bill is tripling state licensing fees on standard fertilizer to $300 and creating a new registration fee for organic fertilizer of $500. Fines for violating state fertilizer rules would be doubled from no more than $500 to no more than $1,000 and a new misdemeanor is created: knowingly adulterating an organic material with ingredients that do not comply with federal organic requirements.
The fee and fine increases are aimed at giving the California Department of Agriculture the enforcement power and oversight authority it needs to properly regulate the organic fertilizer industry.
Genesis of the bill by Salinas Democratic Assemblywoman Anna Caballero appears to be the 2004 discovery of a fertilizer labeled as “organic” laced with ammonium sulfate, a synthetic substance that cannot be used on corps if the farmer wants to label them organic.
Under federal labeling rules, food cannot be organic if the farmer uses most conventional pesticides or fertilizers containing sewage sludge or synthetic material.
California Liquid Fertilizer, the Salinas-based company who made the inexpensive and effective fertilizer, controlled as much as one-third of the organic fertilizer market in 2006. It had also received a previous thumbs-up from organic regulators.
The state food and agriculture department conducted a three-year investigation of the 2004 incidence. In January 200, the department ruled that the fertilizer should be removed from the organic market.
No fines or penalties were levied against the manufacturer.
In 2008, the department created a strategic plan to improve its Fertilizer Materials inspection Program, particularly in the area of organics. Among the changes the department made was expanding the number of staff who review fertilizer labels and conduct field inspections.
The revenue from the fee increases in Caballero’s bill are aimed at adding more staffing to increase inspections and testing.
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