Salmonella Fertilizer Sparks Lawsuit, Worries over Tainted ProduceFeb 15, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Salmonella has allegedly been found in organic fertilizer, leading to a lawsuit and concerns that the salmonella-tainted fertilizer could contaminate fruits and vegetables being sold to consumers. In a suit filed February 6th in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California, the Oceano Packing Company is suing True Organic Products and Western Farm Service for selling fertilizer contaminated by salmonella. The lawsuit came after three unrelated Oceano customers reported finding salmonella in Oceano crops.
True Organic and Western Farm are being sued for negligence, breach of express and implied warranty of fitness, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, unfair competition, and for allegedly violating the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. Adopted as part of the 1990 Farm Bill, the Act states that any agricultural product labeled or represented as 100 percent organic must be produced in accordance with federal guidelines and requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) establish national standards governing the marketing of certain agricultural products as organically produced; assure consumers that organically produced products meet a consistent standard; and facilitate interstate commerce in organically produced fresh and processed food.
According to the lawsuit, salmonella has already been found in crops in which contaminated fertilizer tainted the products. It is unknown if these crops have been released to the public and how many crops were affected. The results are unimaginable given that the tainted fertilizer would likely also contaminate livestock and run-off into water supplies and other crops.
The complaint also alleges that Western Farm engaged in criminal conversion and defamed Oceano, that Western Farm representatives entered Oceano's property in January without permission, removing items, mostly chemicals. The complaint also alleges Western Farm represented to third parties that Oceano does not pay its trade debts in a timely manner.
During the 2007 growing season, Oceano contacted Western Farm, a California company, for its recommendation on a fertilizer. Western recommended a fertilizer known as "true 10-5-2," manufactured by True Organic Products. Oceano, which claims to have conducted its own investigation, states the fertilizer was the source of salmonella contamination.
Salmonellosis is an infection emerging from Salmonella and is usually passed from the feces of people or animals to other people or animals. Most people infected with Salmonellosis develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours following infection. Many different kinds of illnesses can cause these symptoms; determining Salmonella requires laboratory tests to identify the bacteria in the stools of an infected person. Once identified, testing can determine the specific type of Salmonella and which antibiotics treat it. Salmonellosis lasts a week and most people recover without treatment; however, in some, diarrhea may be so severe hospitalization is required and the infection may have spread from the intestines to the blood stream and other body sites. Without treatment, severe cases can result in death. Some bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, largely due to the use of antibiotics to promote the growth of feed animals. A small number of persons infected will develop pains in their joints, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination—a condition called Reiter's syndrome—which can last for months or years and can lead to chronic arthritis; antibiotic treatment does not make a difference in whether or not the person later develops arthritis.