Buyer Beware! The Dangers of Mislabeled Pesticides and What Every Consumer Should Know
Updated: May 25, 2022
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:
Common False Claims Made by Pesticide Manufacturers:
That they are ‘registered’ with the Environmental Protection Agency in the same way as every other EPA sold in the US.
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:
Makes any fraudulent or untruthful declarations.
Doesn’t show the product’s registration number.
Fails to include a health protection warning.
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
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
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!
“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
In practice, this means that the following rules apply to all pesticides and their labeling:
No one is allowed to distribute or sell any pesticide that’s not registered under FIFRA.
Every pesticide sold must bear its own EPA-registered pesticide label.
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:
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.
The product contains only those inert (other) ingredients that have been classified by EPA as List 4A “Inert Ingredients of Minimal Concern.”
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.
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.
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.
NOTE: Pesticides Guidelines Vary from State to State
It’s worth pointing out here that not all states require adherence to FIFRA (25b). In fact, only 10 states do not require 25(b) pesticide registration, so if you have any doubt about a product you should contact the appropriate state authorities before using it.
5 Things to Look for When Buying Pesticides
The EPA offers a number of simple rules you might want to keep in mind when buying any pesticide:
Look for an EPA registration number on the pesticide's container. This number tells you that EPA has examined the safety testing.
Look for a list of the active ingredients on the label. Any product registered with EPA must state the active ingredients on the label.
Trust your instincts. Shop for pesticides only in stores you know and trust. Don’t buy products that are packed or wrapped suspiciously.
Be aware that some pesticides are not meant to be used in the home (like farm pesticides). The product label will tell you where the product can be used.
Always read the label first. EPA must approve all pesticide labels before products can be sold. If you follow all the label directions, you will reduce your risk of harming yourself, your pets, and the environment. The label provides important information you need to protect yourself and your family.
What to Watch For: Indicators That a Pesticide Might Not Be Legal
The sad fact of the matter is that there are any number of supposedly ‘reliable’ manufacturers of pesticides who are anything but! Xenophobic as it may sound, you should be especially careful when it comes to buying products made overseas. Of course, there are many foreign companies whose products are both safe and reliable. So, don’t dismiss them out of hand.
That said, you should know that there are some warnings issued by the EPA that you should keep in mind. For instance:
The terms “Organic” or “Certified Organic” in reference to the 25(b) products are unacceptable. The use of the USDA Organic logo is not acceptable on any labeling.
Individual ingredients in a 25(b) product may be listed as “grown organically”, but proper paperwork may be required to substantiate this claim. The use of the term “organic” is acceptable when used in connection with the following wordage:
For Use in Organic Production
For Use in Organic Gardening
For Use on Organic Turf
Also, “Natural” claims are not allowed if the product includes synthetic chemicals and/or those derived synthetically. Add to that ingredients such as (but not limited to) sodium lauryl sulfate, isopropyl myristate, isopropyl alcohol, malic acid, potassium sorbate, citric acid, sodium benzoate, benzoic acid and xanthan gum.
Finally, claims such as “Safe” or “Safe around children and pets” are acceptable only when accompanied by the qualifier “...when used as directed”.
If you find any, or all, of this confusing, you’re not alone. Consumer education is important and finding reliable information about pesticides and disinfectants can be challenging - even today when these products are so fundamental in our daily lives and the fight against Coronavirus. That’s one of the reasons we produce this blog. We hope you find it useful. If you would like to explore these issues further, here are some links you may find useful:
National Institutes of Health
EPA-Registered in All 50 States, 100 Years in Business: The Sterifab® Advantage
Caveat emptor is advice we should always keep in mind. But to that I would add another Latin adage: Operam ad salutem. It simply means “Pay attention to safety.”
Fortunately, you can adhere to both nuggets of counsel by using Sterifab for all your pesticide, fungicide, and disinfectant tasks. First, and perhaps most importantly, it’s the only disinfectant, insecticide and virucide that is EPA-registered and entirely non-residual.
Sterifab also kills microorganisms and pests- like bed bugs, ticks, fleas and more- and is precisely engineered to kill fungus, viruses, mold and mildew. Plus, it disinfects and eradicates pathogenic odors.
Buy the Brand You Can Trust
You can use Sterifab at home, just like the pros do. Just spray, walk away and come back 15 minutes later. It’s entirely non residual. Order a Bottle