CALIFORNIA EPA: Worm Poop is Pesticide– Man Fined $100,000 for Not Registering

Scarecrows Could Be Regulated?

Here is another regulatory freight train out of control.

Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) represents entrepreneur George Hahn, of Cardiff-by-the-Sea, who has been fined $100,000 by the Department of Pesticide Regulation(DPR). (The fine has been stayed pending the outcome of this litigation.)
Hahn invented and sells Worm Gold, an organic, non-toxic fertilizer made of worm feces (technically known as worm castings) to care for plants and protect them from insects.

What is his “offense” in the eyes of the DPR? He did not register this natural, non-toxic product as a “pesticide.”

  “George Hahn is a victim of the outrageous abuse of regulatory power,” said PLF Principal Attorney Timothy Sandefur, who represents Hahn in the lawsuit. “California’s pesticide laws were intended to protect the public from poisonous chemicals, not to shut down an entrepreneur who’s offering a safe, organic alternative.”

Worms are a normal part of healthy soil, and their digestive system helps break down soil nutrients in a way that improves plant health. Better still, worm castings help plants resist infestation by insects. They are not poisonous to insects or other pests, but work by boosting a plant’s natural immune system.

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7 responses to “CALIFORNIA EPA: Worm Poop is Pesticide– Man Fined $100,000 for Not Registering

  1. Seriously. Again, government controlling what we do and how we do it. Worm castings though? Someone needs to educated DPR what the word “pesticide” means.

  2. If this was a fertilizer where does pesticide get into it?
    Do the gvt officials really not know the difference?

  3. The claim that it reduces pests (because the plants are healthier) makes it subject to regulation as a pesticide. It is the “claim” that is causing all this trouble.

  4. Many composts can biologically suppress plant diseases. I’m actually working on a PhD in plant pathology on this very subject. However, if anyone selling this material makes claims as to its ability to control or suppress disease, the material must be listed as a biopesticide through the EPA. Just like anyone making fertilizer claims with a natural product like compost has to have it tested for nutrients and go through that regulatory process.

    Just because something is natural, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily safe. Some biological pesticides used by organic farmers (special strains of bacteria or fungi) have caused disease in immune compromised people and their use has subsequently been restricted to protect public health. National Organic Program rules require livestock manures to be briefly hot composted before being fed to worms in order for the finished vermicompost to be used in certified organic production. Composted materials on the OMRI list must undergo testing for human pathogens to make sure they are safe.

    There are many effective and safe biological pesticides available for certified organic growers to use (check the OMRI list and the EPA list

    These entrepreneurs offering “safe, organic alternatives” have followed the law and have tested their products for safety. I don’t see why Mr. Hahn thinks the law doesn’t apply to him. Vermicompost could be a source of new biocontrol products in the future, however makers of natural products have to follow the law just like everyone else and be able to back up their claims with testing. I’m not saying the regulations are perfect. Currently registering biocontrol products that contain multiple species of microorganisms (like composts) is complicated and I feel there is a lot of room for improvement in the way the biopesticide registration works. But that’s what democracy is for, and stakeholders can continue to work to make these regulations better.

  5. Other successful commercial natural products that stimulate plants’ defense responses without direct toxicity to the pest itself have undergone EPA testing and registration. Harpin or “Messenger” is one of those.

    I’ll be very curious to follow this case and see what kinds of arguments Mr. Hahn’s lawyers make. The law seems pretty straightforward to me. Mr. Hahn can sell as much vermicompost as he wants as a fertilizer. But making any sort of disease suppression claims (biological or otherwise) puts his product in a different regulatory category.

    • Thanks for your valuable comments. When products are introduced commercially, especially in wide-areas, compliance with rules are complex. There must be a way to state the product makes plants healthy thereby resistant to many pests– without needing registration. I think that is the point of the litigation.

  6. I don’t know if I agree with the litigators. Should I be able to sell you an unknown liquid in a bottle, call it “magic liquid”, and claim that it enhances your immune system making you impervious to pathogens? There’s a reason why plant health, animal health and human health products are regulated. Otherwise we can all fall victim to snake oil (or worse products that are actually dangerous).

    There is a lot of great research coming out that vermicompost can suppress insect pathogens. Identifying the biological and chemical mechanism/s and evaluating safety will take time, energy and money.

    In human health, probiotic supplements that support your immune system and prevent disease are extensively researched and tested for safety before they’re commercially available. I don’t see why this should be any different if a plant health or insect resistance claim is being made.

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