Gonzales Man Pleads Guilty to Spiking Organic Fertilizer with Synthetics
February 28, 2012
Forget images of chewed-up, misshapen organic produce: When it's spiked with synthetic stuff, organic grosses plenty.
From 2000 to 2006, California Liquid Fertilizer in Gonzales grossed $6.5 million on a fertilizer fraudulently marketed as organic. Former CLF President Peter Townsley pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud in federal court in San Francisco Feb. 22.
In entering his guilty plea, Townsley admitted adding ammonium chloride, a material prohibited from use in organic agriculture, and a year later, adding ammonium sulfate, another prohibited ingredient. He continued marketing Biolizer XN as a product containing fish and feathermeal, "When he knew that neither of those facts was true," according to a statement released by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag's office.
Townsley's sentencing is scheduled for June 13 before Judge Charles R. Breyer in San Francisco. The maximum penalty for each violation is 20 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release. Townsley, 50, a citizen of Canada, was originally indicted by a federal Grand Jury on June 1, 2010 and charged with seven counts of fraud.
The prosecution is the result of a two-year investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General Investigations and the FBI.
The case brought renewed attention to regulating and enforcing the National Organic Program, established by the federal Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. The Organic Materials Review Institute tested and approved Biolizer XN before Townsley spiked the formula and continued to claim it was OMRI-approved. The nonprofit changed its practice of simply verifying ingredient lists to biannual inspections of fertilizer.