With all the false allegations concerning pesticide use on foods, and and the inflated claims of toxic residues that so often fail to be confirmed by actual evidence, you might have cause to wonder about all such statements about pesticides. But, in truth, some pesticides are approved for use on crops, and some are not. However, there are also pesticides that are allowed to be used on stored agricultural products such as grains. It is true that such an illegal pesticide was once used on stored oats that belonged to General Mills. The story broke around July, 1994.
The oats involved, almost 19 million bushels, were bound for grain elevators in Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin. A company called Fumicon was contracted to spray these oats with an approved pesticide called Reldan. On June 15, 1994, General Mills announced that the company had instead been using an illegal pesticide called Dursban, which was not approved for stored oat grain. Federal inspectors had found the residues. The spraying company, whose president was Y. George Roggy, used the illegal pesticide to save money, while falsifying invoices to make it appear that Reldan had been used. The invoices totaled $166,120, saving the company over $85,000.
The illegally sprayed grains ended up in nearly 160 million boxes of Cheerios, Lucky Charms, and other cereals. The public at large scarcely noticed.
Roggy was charged with adulterating food, misusing pesticides, and 11 counts of mail fraud. The FDA and other federal authorities said that the cereals did not represent a public health crisis.
Food safety advocates cried foul, but, in truth, the reason that Dursban was illegal for use on stored grains has nothing to do with any proof that it was more toxic that Reldan, or not safe for this use. Dursban had, in fact, for years already been used on 45 crops, including wheat, corn, apples, and others. It’s developer, Dow-Elanco simply had not bother to go through the steps to have the EPA approve Dursban for oats, because they deemed it a waste of money ($150,000 to $250,000) when Reldan 4E was deemed to be a more effective product on oats.
At the time, a spokesman for Dow-Elanco, Gary Hamlin, expressed puzzlement at the idea that Roggy had been able to get the Dursban at a cheaper price that Reldan, since Dow-Elanco sold both the pesticides to distributes for around the same price. It could be, since many companies make pesticides based on the same compounds, that Roggy did not actually use Dursban, but a similar product, but this can only be speculation.
General mills halted the distribution of millions of cereal boxes after they were warned of the residues, and guaranteed the remaining stored grains. They managed to account for about 50 million of the estimated 160 million boxes of cereal. They also shut down production and cleaned their factories. No recall of General Mills products was ordered by the FDA, since there was deemed to be no danger to the public health.
General Mills initially expressed some interest in having the products temporarily cleared for sell, but decided against this since by the time they were able to sell any of the inventory, it would have been past its freshness date. The company reported losing $140 million.
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