Massive Fine Isn’t the End of Miracle Gro’s Disaster

Scotts Miracle Gro’s tainted bird seed and mislabeled pesticides are symptoms of a corrupt organization, according to a class-action lawsuit against the company.

Class-Action Lawsuit Alleges Mafia-Like Activity

Miracle Gro Boss Says One Employee Acted Alone in Misleading Government

Yesterday the Justice Department handed down $12.5 million worth of fines and penalties, but that only lengthened the long line of trouble likely awaiting the world’s largest lawn and garden chemical company.

At least a dozen, perhaps more civil lawsuits are in the works against Scotts Miracle Gro as a result of its February 2012 admission that it knowingly tainted bird seed with pesticides that are toxic to birds and otherwise mis-led pesticide regulators in the sales and labeling of more than 100 products. A class-action lawsuit is being readied and lawyers are aggressively seeking consumers who purchased an estimated 73 million tainted bags of Scotts birdseed between November of 2005 and March of 2008. Even though Scotts was warned by members of its own staff that the seed was tainted with pesticides, the company knowingly sold the products under several brand names, including “Morning Song,” “Country Pride,” “Scotts Songbird Selections” and “Scotts Wild Bird Food.”

“Scotts failed to disclose that its bird seed contained pesticides that were known to be highly toxic to birds,” states the class-action lawsuit. “Instead, defendant knowingly sold millions of units of its defective and toxic bird feed products, knowing the products would be widely used to feed birds at purchasers’ homes, in back yards and in wild and natural environments across the United States. Due to defendant’s concealment of material information regarding its use of toxic chemicals in its products, defendant’s products were not appropriate for their intended and marketed use as bird feed, and were not worth the purchase price paid by plaintiffs and the class. As a result of defendant’s criminal enterprise, thousands of American consumers and other purchasers across the country did not receive the benefit of their bargain and were damaged.”

The class-action suit, according to reports, seeks more than $5 million in compensatory and treble damages for claims that fall under the law that covers mafia-like activity and other ongoing criminal organizations (RICO) and alleges violations of consumer fraud and unfair trade practices laws in several states. The case was brought forward by Douglas Dowd and Alex Lumaghi of Dowd Dowd and John Driscoll in St. Louis, Missouri.

The story of the $12.5 million fine, carried on several major news outlets, lit the blogosphere afire Friday night and into this morning.

“Scumbags!” stated one observer. “No fine is big enough,” said another. “For 70 million units sold? Fair fine? How much do their top dogs make?” asked yet another.


Only time will tell if the latest news will truly hit Miracle Gro’s bottom line at the peak of the fall lawn care season. When the stock market closed Friday, just as the news of the fine began to spread, Miracle Gro was up to 43.21 per share — a significant increase over recent negative fluctuations — although financial forecasters do predict the stock will dip Monday.

In posting its acknowledgement of the largest pesticide-related fines in American history on its web site, Scotts Miracle Gro’s release said the company “neither admits nor denies the allegations” related to the mislabeling of products. The CEO Jim Hagedorn continues to insist that one long-time employee — Sheila Kendrick — bore all the responsibility for the five-year ruse.

“No one else in the company knew about the illegal activities of one of our associates,” said Hagedorn, who has not offered an explanation as to a possible motive of a woman who was, by many accounts, much beloved by her co-workers.

In an open letter posted on the company’s web site late yesterday, Hagedorn also stated that coating the bird seed with pesticides to avoid infestation from insects “is a standard practice in the wild bird food industry” and Scotts issued reports that the tainted seed came as the result of “three rogue employees.”

Hagedorn went on to assure readers that the company had taken steps to assure nothing like that would ever happen again — and ultimately hopes that consumers believe the $12.5 million fines and penalties were the result of the actions of four misguided employees rather than a corrupt company culture.

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Amidst Wildlife Federation Firestorm, Scotts Miracle Gro Fined $4.5 Million for Toxic Bird Seed, Falsifying Records

UPDATE: Petition Asks NWF to Say No to Scotts’ Sponsorship:


On the same week Scotts Miracle Gro tried to buy an image upgrade by sponsoring the National Wildlife Federation, word has come out of a federal court that the company will pay millions of dollars in fines for selling bird seed it knew was tainted with pesticides toxic to birds.

Though the company had no comment yesterday, it pleaded guilty to charges that it sold 73 MILLION UNITS of tainted bird seed from 2005 to 2008. According to an article in today’s Columbus, Ohio, newspaper, the company continued to sell the bird seed “despite warnings in the summer and fall of 2007 from a pesticide chemist and an ornithologist, both of whom worked for the company.”

The company also pleaded guilty yesterday to falsifying documents with the Environmental Protection Agency so that it could rush new weed ‘n feed and ant killing products to market back in 2006. When Scotts’ fallacy was revealed — after the products containing cancer-causing agents had already been on the market for two years — the company blamed the actions on a single female employee, who was abruptly fired after years with the company.

Many in and around the company called her an obvious “scapegoat,” who unjustifiably took the blame for an error that could not possibly have been hers and hers alone. In a 2008 article in the same Columbus newspaper, Scotts spokesman Jim King admitted the fired employee had a supervisor who reviewed her work, but the supervisor was not terminated according to people within Scotts.

“There aren’t very many people working for Scotts in that end of the company,” said our colleague at Scotts who asked not to be named. “But I knew the woman who was let go very well and it would be completely out of character for her to knowingly falsify records.”

When SafeLawns phoned the woman this morning, she pleasantly declined comment, as she has done previously with other media inquiries.

Meanwhile, our phone and email in-box has been lit up today as the story of Scotts’ latest transgression spreads across North America.

The company, many folks believe, must have known this ruling in federal court was coming down for several months. The timing of the sponsorship with the National Wildlife Federation, announced by NWF on Jan. 18, was clearly designed to draw attention away from what is believed to be the largest fine ever levied on a pesticide company.

“It is whitewashing at the highest, most obvious level,” said Rand Jordan. “I’ve yanked my NWF habitat sign out of my backyard. I’ll never, ever support them again.”

Many called on the National Wildlife Federation to return Scotts’ money and demand that the world’s largest purveyor of lawn and garden poisons change its ways.

“I’m sickened. Just sickened about the whole thing,” said Sue Leonard of Fort Worth, Texas.

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Citing Guilty Plea, Wildlife Federation Ends Agreement with Scotts

SafeLawns followers are celebrating a victory today.

Succumbing to a barrage of criticism from the environmental community — and in the wake of a guilty plea from Scotts Miracle Gro in federal court — the National Wildlife Federation announced to members this afternoon that is would end its sponsorship deal with the world’s largest purveyor of toxic lawn and garden products.

The announcement of a promotional deal between Scotts and NWF posted 10 days ago confounded thousands of followers of the organization known for its environmental stewardship programs. The organization’s leadership steadfastly defended its deal last week, but apparently had no idea that Scotts Miracle Gro would soon plead guilty last Thursday to charges of falsifying documents and selling bird seed tainted with pesticides that are toxic to birds.

At approximately 4 p.m. today, Ed Coleman, the general manager of customer service at NWF, issued this statement:

“The National Wildlife Federation has worked together with Scotts Miracle-Gro over the past two years on programs to educate gardeners about global warming, connect children to the outdoors and help restore habitat following the Gulf oil disaster. Both parties recently announced plans for an even broader partnership that was based on our common interests.

“Since that time, Scotts announced a pending legal settlement related to events in 2008 that predate our partnership, which has made it clear that the partnership is not viable. Therefore, NWF and Scotts will work together to end the partnership in a friendly and mutually beneficial way.

“National Wildlife Federation appreciates your continuing support.”

Coleman also posted his email ( and phone number (703-438-6205) with the message.

Reaction was celebratory, even euphoric, from SafeLawns followers who have been emailing, phoning and protesting in various ways in the past week.

“We won!” said Marie Ross. “This proves the power of social media once again.”

“It’s too bad it took the federal court case for the NWF to come to its senses, but at least it did,” said Jonathan R. Douglass.

Many others thanked SafeLawns directly for helping to lead a charge last week with a series of postings about the story.

“Thanks, Paul, for all you do,” said a message from a group known as StopPesticidesinNeedham. “I suspect all our letters combined with the reality that Scotts is such a dirty company made the NWF realize this was not good.”

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