(UPDATED COVERAGE, Dec. 3) A former employee of greenhouse vegetable grower-shipper Eurofresh Inc. claims the company used unauthorized chemicals and pesticides — and that he was fired for objecting to it. Eurofresh’s top official denies the charges.
In a suit filed Nov. 18 in Monterey County (Calif.) State Superior Court, Brian McLaughlin, former chief financial officer of Willcox, Ariz.-based Eurofresh, says he was fired in November 2009 because he “refused to participate in and openly opposed the company’s unlawful use of chemicals and pesticides,” according to the suit’s complaint.
According to the complaint, between Eurofresh’s founding in 1992 and Sept. 1, 2009, the company “achieved its competitive advantage, in part, through the deliberate and willful use of at least 15 unregistered and, therefore, unlawful chemicals and pesticides to enhance the company’s tomato crops grown for human consumption.”
Ethrel, Asepta Carex and Calypso were the chemicals listed by name in the complaint.
At the time, Eurofresh said it fired McLaughlin because “the company’s senior leadership had purportedly lost ‘trust and confidence’ in his abilities,” according to the complaint.
Eurofresh’s chief executive officer, Johan van den Berg, denied the company used illegal chemicals and pesticides, and that McLaughlin was fired because he blew the whistle on the company.
“Eurofresh Farms has not and will not improperly use any products to grow its tomatoes and cucumbers,” van den Berg said.
After McLaughlin learned of the alleged use of chemicals and pesticides and told Eurofresh’s board of directors about it, Frank Van Straalen, the company’s current executive vice president of operations, threatened to fire him. Van den berg also denied that allegation.
The board hired an environmental consulting firm to investigate Eurofresh’s chemical and pesticide use. When it confirmed that Eurofresh had been using unauthorized chemicals and pesticides, according to the lawsuit, van den Berg “admitted during a board meeting that he had in fact made the decision to use the unregistered chemicals and growth regulator.”
In response to that charge, van den Berg said “at no time were chemicals or treatments used by Eurofresh applied in a manner that would be unsafe for consumer consumption or employee handling.” Van den Berg also said that Ethrel had been approved for non-greenhouse tomatoes.