Florida Citrus Grower That Killed Millions of Bees With Pesticide Gets $1,500 Fine

Flaunt state law by illegally spraying pesticide that destroys millions of bees, threatens a local ecosystem, and costs local beekeepers a quarter of a million bucks? Better think twice! If Florida regulators catch you in the act, you'll have to cough up, uh, about $1,500.

That laughable penalty has environmentalists and beekeepers fuming in Crystal River, where the state found that citrus giant Ben Hill Griffin Inc. broke pesticide laws twice this year yet has levied only one tiny fine.

"Every four days, they were spraying seven or eight different types of chemicals," Crystal River beekeeper Randall Foti tells the Palm Beach Post. "A $1,500 fine is not much of a deterrent."

Worldwide, scientists have been raising the alarm for years about colony collapse disorder, a mysterious phenomenon that's led to mass bee die-offs. Bees are key pollinators for many vital plants, meaning their disappearance has dire consequences for entire ecosystems.

Many have pointed to pesticides as a likely cause, and Foti says he's certain that Ben Hill Griffin's chemicals are to blame for his losses.

On March 19, he asked the state to investigate after aerial pesticide sprayings of the nearby citrus groves killed millions of his bees. Foti later found cans of a pesticide he says the company had been illegally spraying to kill Asian citrus psyllid, an insect pest.

The state looked into it and last week sent Griffin a later saying the company had indeed broken state law with pesticide sprays in February and March.

It's the first time state investigators have linked a mass bee die-off to citrus growers' pesticides, the Post reports, yet regulators levied only a $1,500 fine. (The most they could have demanded from the company is $10,000.)

Ben Hill Griffin hasn't responded to the state's complaint yet and didn't return calls to the Palm Beach Post. Riptide has also left a message with the firm; we'll update this post when we hear back.

That fine pales in comparison to Foti's losses, which he says include $240,000 in honey, not to mention the cost to local ecosystems.

"Fifteen hundred dollars ain't nothin to the grove people," Foti's partner, Barry Hart, says.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink