US Attorneys Bust Pesticide Smuggling Operation, but Online Purchasing Continues - Beyond Pesticides

Summary

(Beyond Pesticides, June 14, 2022) The ringleader of a pesticide smuggling operation conducted across the United States border with Mexico has been sentenced to eight months in prison by a U,S, District Court Judge. According to a press release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, Sofia Mancera Morales used individuals recruited over social media Bovitraz and Taktic, pesticide products banned in the US that pose hazards to pollinators and cancer risks to humans. “In exchange for ill-begotten profits, this cavalier smuggling operation was more than willing to risk the public’s health and the honeybee industry, which is critical to pollinating our food supply,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. While the Department of Justice deserves praise for this enforcement action, health and environmental advocates say that more must be done to stop illegal pesticide sales. A quick search for the two pesticide products in question brings up webpages, including well-known sites like Etsy.com, where the same illegal pesticides cited in this case are currently being sold to U.S. consumers.

Over Facebook, Ms. Morales offered to pay individuals between $40-150 per package of pesticide products they delivered across the border. Those recruited were instructed to open a self-storage unit in their name, place the products in the unit, and send Ms. Morales a picture to ensure proof before payment. Ms. Morales was provided the key to these storage units. The U.S. Attorney’s office indicates that most recruits completed deliveries between 2-5 times per week, while one recruit delivered nearly 1,000 bottles within a single month.

(Beyond Pesticides, June 14, 2022) The ringleader of a pesticide smuggling operation conducted across the United States border with Mexico has been sentenced to eight months in prison by a U,S, District Court Judge. According to a press release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, Sofia Mancera Morales used individuals recruited over social media Bovitraz and Taktic, pesticide products banned in the US that pose hazards to pollinators and cancer risks to humans. “In exchange for ill-begotten profits, this cavalier smuggling operation was more than willing to risk the public’s health and the honeybee industry, which is critical to pollinating our food supply,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. While the Department of Justice deserves praise for this enforcement action, health and environmental advocates say that more must be done to stop illegal pesticide sales. A quick search for the two pesticide products in question brings up webpages, including well-known sites like Etsy.com, where the same illegal pesticides cited in this case are currently being sold to U.S. consumers.

Over Facebook, Ms. Morales offered to pay individuals between $40-150 per package of pesticide products they delivered across the border. Those recruited were instructed to open a self-storage unit in their name, place the products in the unit, and send Ms. Morales a picture to ensure proof before payment. Ms. Morales was provided the key to these storage units. The U.S. Attorney’s office indicates that most recruits completed deliveries between 2-5 times per week, while one recruit delivered nearly 1,000 bottles within a single month.

Bovitraz and Taktic are acaricide/miticides that contain high concentrations of the active insecticide ingredient amitraz. While their pesticide products containing amitraz registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), they are at a roughly 3% concentration, whereas the illegal products have a 12.5% concentration. At this lower concentration, the product is allowed for use on dog flea collars and by chemical beekeepers to manage varroa mites. Those purchasing the illegal products may be using them for tick, mite, or mange management in domestic cattle, sheep or pigs.

A product called Mitcur, which contains 10% amitraz, was previously registered with EPA, and prior to cancellation, represented the majority of bee kill incidents recorded by the agency associated with amitraz. Reports of bee kills associated with Amitraz stretch as far back as 1993, yet EPA approved amitraz for use under an emergency exemption in 2012, and subsequently provided full registration to products containing the lower amount of the chemical. For its use on dogs, EPA reported 109 amitraz poisoning incidents, of which over half were of moderate severity.

In honey bees, amitraz has been shown to weaken honey bee immune systems and their ability to fight off viral infections. Honey bee parasites, like the varroa mite, are also known to rapidly develop resistance to amitraz. Since reregistering use of the chemical for honey bees in 2013, amitraz resistance has been detected in hives in Louisiana, New York, and South Dakota.

The chemical poses a range of hazards to humans as well. “In addition to posing risks to the bee population, misuse of amitraz-containing products in beehives can result in exposures that could cause neurological effects and reproductive effects in humans from consumption of contaminated honey,” notes the US Attorney’s press release. The chemical is also associated with declines in male fertility in laboratory animal studies, and is a possible human carcinogen. Exposure through pet collars, including an expected activity like hugging one’s dog, is associated with a cancer risk of 2.8 to 5.6 individuals per 100,000.

Despite registering use for dogs on flea collars, EPA indicates dogs are the most sensitive species to the chemical among animals tested. Studies indicate harmful impacts on the dog’s central nervous system, recording also low pulse rate, hypothermia, increased sugar in urine, increase liver rate, and liver lesions.

While amitraz poses significant hazards under the current EPA allowances, the illegally smuggled products do represent an even greater risk. “This office and our law enforcement partners will not stand idly by in the face of pesticide smuggling. Perpetrators of environmental crimes will be investigated and held accountable,” said U.S. Attorney Grossman. With that in mind, advocates are urging the U.S. Department of Justice to go after the illegal online sales of Bovitraz, Taktic, and the wide range of other highly hazardous pesticides that are being sold on widely available websites.

A “star seller” on Etsy.com, named BeeKeepingTreasures, is currently selling Taktic with an indication that it ships from Laredo, Texas. The product has customer reviews as recent as June 11, 2022. Likewise, the product Bovitraz was quickly found through a web search sold on the site All4Rooster.com where free shipping to the US is advertised.

Beyond Pesticides reached out to the Southern District of California U.S. Attorney’s Office for comment regarding the continued online sales of these illegal pesticide products, but did not receive a response in time for publication. If a comment is provided this article will be updated.

Stopping the illegal importation of toxic pesticides is an essential task for pesticide enforcement agencies. It is critical that the Department of Justice continue to go after sellers, both small and large, including repeat offenders like Amazon.com, which recently entered into a consent decree with the state of Washington and agreed to pay a $2.5 million fine for illegal pesticide sales.

Concerned consumers are encouraged to avoid the use of toxic registered pesticides in general, including those sold through insecure websites. If pest problems arise, consult Beyond Pesticides resources for nontoxic management before even considering organic certified or minimum risk pesticide products. If necessary, aim to purchase pesticides directly from your local home and garden centers, If they don’t carry less these less toxic products, use tools like the Making the Switch webpage to start a conversation about transitioning to safer product selections.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: U.S. Attorney’s Office, South District of California press release

US Attorneys Bust Pesticide Smuggling Operation, but Online Purchasing Continues - Beyond Pesticides
Photo Credit: Beyond Pesticides

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