If you’re in the business of selling farm inputs to farmers, you may not know that simply having the wrong label on a product could result in a fine of almost $20,000 per sale. What may seem like an inconsequential difference between one label and another could result in crippling fines when it comes to the sale of products regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Earlier this year, the EPA raised its maximum fine amount to $19,446 for violations of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Just ten years ago, the maximum fine per violation was just $6,500. Products regulated and subject to penalties under FIFRA include pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and similar products.
Under FIFRA, all pesticides must have a label approved by EPA, and the label must be displayed on the product. The label provides instructions on safe handling to ensure the safety of the applicator as well as the safety of the environment. Two products can have very similar sounding names, but still have very different labels, which can make following FIFRA a regulatory challenge. If a product has been mislabeled, each sale of that product is considered a separate and independent violation. So, if a coop makes 1,000 sales of a mislabeled product, they could incur fines of almost $19 million.
The best medicine is always prevention, which is why it’s important to have someone on staff whose job it is to ensure compliance with all applicable state and federal regulations. For businesses that have an internal audit program in place, EPA rewards self-reporting of violations by offering reduced fines so long as the audit program complies with certain criteria. It is important to remember that all self-discovered violations must be reported to EPA within 21 days. EPA has an eDisclosure system for online reporting.
For businesses already facing a potential fine, it’s important to understand the process and your rights. EPA will first send a Notice of Intent to File Administrative Complaint. This Notice will inform the violator of the basis for the alleged violation and a proposed fine. The violator has the opportunity to negotiate with EPA to reduce the fine by, for example, implementing a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) to mitigate the harm caused. After a Complaint is filed against the company, the company has the opportunity to appeal the fine to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who works for the agency. From there, the business can appeal the ALJ’s decision to the Environmental Appeals Board (EAB), which is the last stop before the violator can appeal directly to federal district court. As you can see, the appeals process can be lengthy and expensive, which is why prevention is so important.