Ag-Mart Produce, Inc. (does business as Santa Sweets, Inc.) is a large Florida-based tomato grower. Products include Santa Sweets grape tomatoes and UglyRipe heirloom tomatoes. Ag-Mart is an extensive employer of undocumented migrant workers at its farms and packing facilities in Florida, New Jersey, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. They have another packing facility in Sonora, Mexico.
Ag-Mart's pesticide abuses affect farmworkers
In the winter of 2004, three children of Immokalee tomato workers were born with severe birth defects, with suspected connections to pesticide exposures. One of the babies was born with a cleft palate and facial abnormalities. One child was born so disfigured her sex couldn't be determined until her body was autopsied. A baby boy was born in December with no arms and legs. All three of these mothers worked during their pregnancies at Ag-Mart Produce at sites in Florida, North Carolina and New Jersey. Ag-mart is a Florida-based tomato giant with a long record of labor abuses in the states where it operates. 
On October 7 2005, Ag-Mart announced it will no longer use five pesticides that have been linked to birth defects. Among chemicals they will continue to use is Methyl bromide, one that has been suspected to carry reproductive risks when applied at high dosage levels. Andrew Yaffa, the attorney representing one of the three babies, said the decision is "essentially an admission that the chemicals they've been knowingly exposing these workers to do cause harm." (On October 12, the Collier County (FL) Health Department released a report saying it is unlikely that pesticide exposure caused three Immokalee babies to be born deformed).
On October 13 2005, Ag-Mart was ordered to pay $111,200 in fines for pesticide misuse by the Florida Department of Agriculture. Of the 88 violations cited, 65 involved harvesting crops before a required seven-day waiting period. In some cases, workers picked the vegetables the day after they were sprayed. 
On October 14 2005, agriculture officials in North Carolina cited Ag-Mart for 369 pesticide violations that its investigators found on two farms operated by Ag-Mart in that state, as a result of an investigation initiated by EPA in connection with the deformities. The violations and potential fine, as much as $184,500, are believed to be the largest ever in North Carolina.  Results of environmental investigations in New Jersey, where the company also grows tomatoes, are expected in early 2006.
On October 22 2005, Publix Super Markets confirmed that it will not sell Ag-Mart’s Santa Sweet tomatoes in its 866 stores in five states. A spokesperson said that in light of the seriousness of this situation, they want to do a more thorough investigation. 
January 4, 2007, An Administrative Law Judge in North Carolina ruled that the $184,500 fine should be reduced to no more than $500. The State Pesticide Board has final authority and the Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler says that the State has sufficient evidence to support the higher fine. The case hinges on documentation and the timing of the violations as Board rules were changed effective September 2004. 
AG-Mart Produce, Inc. (does business as Santa Sweets, Inc.)
231 Courtyard Boulevard
Sun City Center, FL 33573-5759
Phone: (813) 633-8806
Fax: (813) 634-8369
Alternate name and office:
Santa Sweets, Inc.
4006 N. Airport Road
Plant City, FL 33563-1108
Phone: (888) 719-6677
Email: info AT santasweets.com
Related SourceWatch articles
- AG-Mart Produce Inc, MacRAE's Blue Book, accessed April 2008.
- John Lantigua, "Why was Carlitos born this way?: He's one of three Immokalee babies who were born horribly disfigured to mothers and fathers who work together in Florida's fields", Palm Beach Post, March 16, 2005.
- Christine Stapleton & Christine Evans, "Tomato grower drops suspect pesticides", Palm Beach Post, October 1, 2005.
- Christine Stapleton, "Pesticide cloud hangs over Ag-Mart's Florida-grown Santa Sweets tomatoes", Palm Beach Post, December 20, 2005.
- "Ag-Mart Produce settles suit with couple", CNBC, March 24, 2008.