Organic fertilizer maker gets prison sentence

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The Salinas Valley, Calif., fertilizer maker who admitted to selling $6.5 million worth of adulterated fertilizer and claimed it was organic during a six-year period was sentenced last week to nearly a year in federal prison.

Peter Townsley, a Canadian resident, operated California Liquid Fertilizer in Gonzales, Calif., between 2000 and 2006. His company sold one-third of its products as organic. However, government prosecutors charged Townsley with adulterating his Biolizer XN fertilizer, which contained fish, fish by-products, feathermeal and water. He adulterated the fertilizer by adding ammonium chloride and ammonium sulfate, which are ingredients that are banned in organic fertilizer.

The U.S. District Court in San Francisco sentenced him to 364 days in prison, fined him $125,000 and ordered him to perform 1,000 hours of community service related to organic farming production. Once he released, the court has ordered that Townsley will be ordered to three years of supervised release with the first six months to be spent in a halfway house.

“By cheating and deceiving his organic farming customers, Mr. Townsley took advantage of their trust and undermined the integrity of an entire industry,” said Northern California U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag in a prepared statement.

“His actions are particularly troubling given the fact that consumers rely on the representations of all participants in the process when they pay a premium price for certified organic products,” Haag said.

California’s Department of Food and Agriculture learned of the problem in 2004 and ordered the fertilizer off the market in January 2007. Townsley was indicted in June 2010.

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Texas  |  November, 12, 2012 at 03:36 PM

I bet the thru be known that it probably performed better than real thing.

ohio  |  November, 12, 2012 at 03:47 PM

Kinda harsh, people in my state doent even get that for. Manslaughter, spend the resources on drug. Dealers

Fresno california  |  November, 12, 2012 at 03:49 PM

Townsley, got off to easy. He jeopardized over 25,000 acres to be certified as non organic. The cost to the growers at that time would have been millions of dollars. $125,000 fine is ridiculous. Not much premium for organics vs conventional these days but at the time there was. The other guy who did the same thing was scheduled for federal court this month but we hear he copped a plea also. Need to get these guys off the street!

Salinas  |  November, 12, 2012 at 04:15 PM

Seems there is a double standard here. Many organic growers have lost certification due to applications of non-accepted products, accidentally applied or without their knowledge or permission. Certifiers come down hard when a non-allowed product is applied, regardless of the circumstances, so why did all the users get a pass on this one. It will be a good question for the attorneys who will question a certifier's decision based upon strict application of the rules the next time a decertification issue is challenged. The end result of all this is that CA organic growers now have a whole new CDFA bureaucracy to deal with and producers of legitimate organic products will pay and pay for the opportunity to offer those products.

Mssouri  |  November, 12, 2012 at 04:29 PM

I laugh every time I see articles like this. The fact that some synthetic made fertilizers found their way by subterfuge onto organic crops should remind us all that the difference between organic and non organic produce is basically the higher price one is willing to pay for an organic product because it is a perceived by the purchaser to offer some benefit that isn't there. It's been proven there is no nutritional difference. It's like paying more for a GMC model p/up over a Chevy because you may think the GMC is better quality while the facts are that they both are made with the same frame chasis and engine.........the standard joke at GM is that the front grill is the only way to identify one from the other.

Central Valley  |  November, 12, 2012 at 05:09 PM


maryland  |  November, 13, 2012 at 08:06 AM

one year in jail is not out of line for a multi-million dollar fraud. even though his 'profit' was much smaller, the damage has to be counted in the value of the fraud. It's likely to be reduced eventually assuming good behavior and the need to house violent felons. and yes, the crop yields prolly were much higher, which prolly was one of the tip offs to the growers. but they are selling a niche product, not volume.

AG Nut    
November, 14, 2012 at 01:19 PM

I guess that is why I hear of these high oganic yield data, they are getting real fertilizer. I bet the yields of his customer will be more in line with organic production now.

AG Nut    
November, 14, 2012 at 01:45 PM

I guess when the promoters of Organic production finally get what they want and the world agricultural system is forced to use Organic production methods and several billion people starve, maybe then everyone will see it's a non-sustainable production system. Dr. Borlaug's studies show that organic production is only able to support around four billion people we now have a global population over six billion. Yes, it was wrong and I don't think he was right for doing what he did. I do think that the prison term and the fine are a bit much to protect a production system that can't even sustain the population base that is on earth today lot alone future population growth.

Aizen Sousuke    
December, 05, 2012 at 10:18 AM

He fool's a third customer base with his organic fertilizer offerings and gets what? A year of jail time, a fine and community service? I don't about everyone else but I think this Townsley guy is getting off light

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