Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to allow pesticide manufacturers to display “third-party endorsements” and charitable tie-ins on their labels. Until now, such promotional marketing has been forbidden, with the pesticide labels devoted to safe usage directions.
EPA would approve each marketing claim on a case-by-case basis, thus entangling the agency in the design of corporate campaigns, according to comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). A pesticide label is a legal document and EPA strictly regulates label content on insecticides, herbicides, rat poisons, fungicides and anti-microbial agents, including bleach, to ensure that usage information is clear and complete. But now EPA is saying that endorsements and charitable pitches can compete for space with safety instructions and hazard warnings.
Misuse of pesticides, however, is a major public health problem. The most recent report from the American Association of Poison Control Centers finds that pesticides are the eighth most frequent cause of calls to poison centers, accounting for more than 100,000 exposures a year, nearly half of which involve children younger than six years old.
“The only symbol that should be on these products is the skull and crossbones – not the Red Cross, or a NASCAR driver, a smiling dolphin or pretty flowers,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Even as pesticides poison our rivers and cause male fish to ovulate, EPA will help the main culprits swathe their products in claims that your purchase helps the environment in some phony baloney way.”
Under the plan, pesticides and other regulated poisons could feature endorsements from celebrities or prominent groups as well as tie-ins with charities on product packaging. Earlier this year, EPA bowed to a request from the Clorox Company to display the Red Cross symbol in advertising a pledge to donate a small percentage of the retail purchase price of its bleach products to the charity. After agreeing to make an exception for Clorox, EPA now wants to transform that exception into the rule.
EPA’s plan, which is open for public comment until December 31, has already drawn objections from the Association of American Pesticide Control Officers Association on the basis that such promotional claims “could mislead, be misinterpreted, or be falsely offering assurances of safety…” In addition —
- Attorneys General from seven states (New York, Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland, Vermont, Oklahoma and Arizona) have called on EPA to retract the Clorox-Red Cross label. In addition, the State of Minnesota has indicated that it will not allow the Clorox-Red Cross label;
- EPA’s action appears to contradict its own guidelines which discourage any “symbols implying safety or non-toxicity, such as a Red Cross or a medical seal of approval (caduceus)”; and
- EPA will give conditional approval for labels even when the agency has “some residual concern” about consumer confusion.
“EPA claims it does not have the time or resources to address issues ranging from global warming to lead-based paint protections for kids yet it is willing to lavish attention on pesticide promotions,” added Ruch, noting that agency employees complain that EPA has come to mean “Encouraging Pesticide Applications” under Administrator Stephen Johnson. “This plan uses tax dollars to assist commercial interests at the possible expense of public health and the environment.”
Significantly, EPA cites the case made by Clorox as one basis for its proposal but still has not released those communications to PEER under a Freedom of Information Act request the group filed back on January 27, 2007.