We told you on October 26, 1998 (see newsflash entry below) that Wal-Mart was facing $156,000 in fines from the U.S. Dept of Agriculture for illegally importing avocados from Mexico. The government claimed that Wal-Mart had shipped the fruit into the US to states without restrictions, and then shipped the forbidden fruit to southern and midwestern states where they are not allowed because of concerns over plant pests and diseases. “These are very serious charges,” the USDA intoned. Nearly one year, and many guacamole salads, later the USDA announced Sept 3rd that it had settled with Wal-Mart to the tune of only $45,000. Under the agreement, Wal-Mart “neither admitted nor denied the allegations”. No, they just paid the $45,000 because they hold the USDA in such high esteem! The USDA had charged the Wal with no less than 156 counts of violating importation rules governing avocados. According to the settlement document dated September 2nd, Wal-Mart told the USDA it did not know the avocados came from Mexico. (Who knows, perhaps they were Alaskan Avocados.) Wal-Mart further alleged that it believed the avocados had been “sourced from countries other than Mexico”. According to the Reuters news account, Wal-Mart was “not available for comment”. Avocados are only allowed in 19 northeastern states during the winter, when the cold weather kills any pests that might be on the fruit. The USDA has proposed a new rule that would make it harder for companies like Wal-Mart to plead avocado amnesia. It would also require that each avocado be labeled.
The USDA took a little munch out of Wal-Mart’s avocado, didn’t they? But only 29% of the fine Wal-Mart might have paid if the USDA had pushed the case to the Wal. A $45,000 fine to Wal-Mart is about as much as the company sells in 10 seconds. So take a deep breath, Wal-Mart, and hold it for 10 seconds. That’s your punishment for 156 violations of the federal Plan Pest Act. That’ll teach ’em! Do you imagine the $45,000 “settlement” even covered the year-long legal negotiations over this case, plus the time spent investigating the Avocado Caper? It looks like its the US taxpayers that ended up with avocado on their faces!