Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The case against Ag-Mart marches forward

The NC Department of Agriculture's case against giant tomato grower Ag-Mart took another step forward at today's NC Pesticide Board meeting. The Board ordered Ag-Mart to pay $21,000 in fines, and revoked the pesticide license of Jeffrey Oxley, the Ag-Mart employee named in the case.

The Board also decided that an Administrative Law Judge had been hasty in tossing out hundreds of charges of endangering workers by allowing them back into the freshly-sprayed fields before protective "re-entry intervals" had expired. The Pesticide Board wants to hear the evidence on those 201 charges, and will hold hearings this summer. In the mean time, it's very likely that the Department of Agriculture will be looking for Ag-Mart workers (or former workers) who can testify in the case.

It's about time the workers' stories are brought to bear in this case. It is amazing that in a case that came to investigators' attention because of the tragic injuries to workers' families, their stories have never been heard. But Ag-Mart's legal counsel will work hard to limit the introduction of "new evidence" -- like workers' statements -- into the record.

Whether the truth will ever come to light, and whether the state's case will withstand the lengthy appeals process that it seems likely to endure, is anybody's guess.

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