Gonzales Fertilizer Manufacturer Sentenced to One Year in Prison
November 9, 2012
While pro-transparency food advocates are reeling from a loss on California's Proposition 37, which would've required labeling on genetically modified foods, an organic fertilizer manufacturer who lied about the ingredients in his products is headed to prison.
Peter Townsley was sentenced Wednesday to a year in prison, 1,000 hours of community service related to organic farming and fined $125,000. He was president of Gonzales-based California Liquid Fertilizer, which sold several products, including Biolizer XN, a fertilizer that grossed over $6.5 million from 2000 through 2006 and was marketed as an organic product—even though he changed the formula to include synthetic components, in violation of the National Organic Program rules for organic farming.
When Townsley first applied to the Organic Materials Review Institute for approval of Biolizer XN in 1998, the fertilizer was made of fish, fish by-products, feathermeal and water—all allowable under the federal organic rules. By 2000, however, he started adding ammonium chloride and then ammonium sulfate, both of which are prohibited ingredients OMRI.
“By cheating and deceiving his organic farming customers, Townsley took advantage of [consumers'] trust and undermined the integrity of an entire industry,” federal attorney Melinda Haag said in a statement.
The crime initially came to the attention of the California Department of Food and Agriculture through a whistle-blower employed at California Liquid Fertilizers.
Townsley was indicted in 2010 and charged with one count of conspiracy to commit fraud seven counts of fraud. In February 2012, he pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud. “This prosecution demonstrates the commitment of federal and state authorities to hold those who choose to violate that trust accountable,” Haag said.
The crime spurred tougher organic rules at OMRI, which following the 2010 indictment, decided to start inspecting high-nitrogen fertilizers twice annually, rather than rely on manufacturers' statements about their composition.