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Buyer Beware! The Dangers of Mislabeled Pesticides and What Every Consumer Should Know

Updated: Feb 3


A pesticide is misbranded if “its labeling bears any statement, design or

graphic representation which is false or misleading in any particular.”


̶ Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)



Caveat emptor. In Latin it means "Let the buyer beware." And when it comes to some of the pesticides now on the market, it’s a warning which should definitely be heeded. Why?


Because a select group of pesticide (and fungicide) manufacturers are misleading consumers by falsely claiming that their products are something they’re not. The claims made for these products are as numerous as they are dishonest, but in the end, they seem to boil down to two principal assertions:


Caution

Common False Claims Made by Pesticide Manufacturers:


  1. That they are ‘registered’ with the Environmental Protection Agency in the same way as every other EPA sold in the US.

  2. That their products are not required to pass the rigorous forms of testing mandated by the government.

In addition to these false claims, manufacturers often mislabel their products in other ways as well. As consumers, it’s important for us to know about these tendencies so we can watch out for them and ensure we are purchasing the safest, most well-regulated and approved products.

A pesticide is considered misbranded if its label:

  1. Makes any fraudulent or untruthful declarations.

  2. Doesn’t show the product’s registration number.

  3. Fails to include a health protection warning.

  4. Lacks accurate use classification.


Unfortunately, if a manufacturer decides to mislabel their product in some way or perhaps omits certain important information, there aren’t any mechanisms in place to keep the company in check. The best we can do is to empower consumers through education and then ensure that each of us “vote with our dollars” and purchase only the most reputable, proven products. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that there is virtually no control over what companies can, or can’t say, about what they bring to market!


But, says the EPA:


“Cleaning products that claim to kill and/or be effective against viruses or pesticides

and must be accepted and registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

. . . prior to distribution or sale. These products may not be sold or distributed unless

they have been properly tested and are registered by the EPA.”


Imagine, for a moment, if this were true for all the products, services or merchandise offered to the public! Cancer patients, for instance, could be given any number of dubious, unproven ‘concoctions’ without there being any repercussions should they fail. Airlines, for their part, could fly faulty, under-serviced aircraft with no thought for the safety of their passengers. And food manufacturers could sell products that didn’t conform to any standards of hygiene or freshness now mandated by the FDA.


I don’t think we have to ‘paint a picture’ for you, do we? The result in almost every case would be disastrous.



Why Accurate, Honest Labeling of Pesticides Is So Important


This state of affairs has taken on a new level of importance in light of the on-going coronavirus pandemic. In fact, the EPA recently stated that it was:


“Receiving a steady stream of tips/complaints concerning potentially false or

misleading claims, including efficacy claims, associated with pesticides and

devices.”


As a result, the agency released a new Compliance Advisory, in which it reiterated its rule that “pesticides and pesticide devices may not make false or misleading claims to be effective against the novel coronavirus” and warned that it would institute new levels of enforcement against unregistered (and other unlawfully distributed) products.


In fact, the EPA has gone one step further, stating that it is now:


“Coordinating with the US Department of Justice and other federal partners to

bring the full force of the law against those selling or otherwise distributing

violative products.”


The recent conviction of a Georgia woman for selling unregistered pesticides on eBay only underscores the government’s intention of getting tough on lawbreakers. The case prompted Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the DoJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division to point out that:


“The trafficking in snake-oil remedies outside of FIFRA is a criminal act and anyone

who does so, especially during this pandemic, will find federal law enforcement

ready to stop them The US Department of Justice will not stand by while criminal

conduct risks people’s health and safety.”



What to Look For in Pesticide Labels


Let’s face it: You probably don’t have the time, nor the inclination, to examine every label, and every listed ingredient on every product you plan to purchase. This was among the many reasons that the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) was passed. It established the US system of pesticide regulation to protect applicators, consumers, and the environment. It means that you should be on the lookout for pesticides that are clearly and definitively EPA-registered!


Under FIFRA:


“No individual may sell, use, nor distribute a pesticide not registered with the United

States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A few exceptions allow a pesticide

to be exempt from registration requirements. There must be a label on each

pesticide describing, in detail, instructions for safe use. Under the act, the EPA must

identify each pesticide as "general use", "restricted use", or both. "General use"

labeled pesticides are available to anyone in the general public. Those labeled as

"restricted use" require specific credentials and certifications through the EPA

(certified applicator).

In practice, this means that the following rules apply to all pesticides and their labeling:

  1. No one is allowed to distribute or sell any pesticide that’s not registered under FIFRA.

  2. Every pesticide sold must bear its own EPA-registered pesticide label.

  3. It is illegal for any vendor to sell or distribute either an unregistered pesticide, or a registered pesticide if it makes claims that differ from those approved by EPA, deviates in any way from the composition approved by EPA, hasn’t been colored (or discolored) if coloration is required, or is adulterated or misbranded.


Just so there’s no confusion here, the EPA states unequivocally that:


“The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Section 7 requires

that production of pesticides, active ingredients or devices be conducted in a

registered pesticide-producing or device-producing establishment...Establishments that

produce pesticides, active ingredients or devices, including companies or

establishments that import into the United States, must first obtain a company

number; second, register the establishment, then file initial and annual production

reports with EPA,


Evaluating Ingredients Used in Pesticides

Keep this in mind if you are evaluating one of these brands, especially if you are purchasing on behalf of a school district or a large health care facility. For the record, there are five criteria that the EPA uses to determine whether a given product contains the correct ingredients. They require that:

  1. The product contains only those active ingredients that are listed in the regulation. Active ingredients are those ingredients that destroy, repel, or mitigate a pest. The active ingredient list can be found here.

  2. The product contains only those inert (other) ingredients that have been classified by EPA as List 4A “Inert Ingredients of Minimal Concern.”

  3. All of the ingredients (both inert and active) are listed on the label. The active ingredient(s) must be listed by name and percentage by weight. Each inert (other) ingredient must be listed by name.

  4. The product not make public health claims. For example, the label may refer to controlling ticks or mosquitoes, but may not claim to prevent any disease(s) carried by those pests, such as Lyme disease, encephalitis, or West Nile Virus.

  5. The label not include any false or misleading statements. For example, label language implying Federal registration, review or endorsement such as "It is a violation of Federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with the label", or the use of an EPA registration or establishment number is not allowed.