Not Reading a Pesticide Label Can Cost You, and the Industry, Dearly

By Tom Delaney

We all make mistakes, and many are probably avoidable. When those mistakes cost your company money in fines and reputation and reflect poorly on our industry, we all need to take note. Research is needed to find out what caused the problem, what needs to be done to avoid it in the future, and how to help others  avoid making the same mistake.

Responses can escalate

Sometimes the response to a mistake can escalate because of special circumstances. An example of this would be the recent bee kill in Oregon during “National Pollinator Week.” Headlines in the local papers raised the alarm: “Massive Oregon bee killing: Pesticide temporarily banned,” “More than 50,000 bees killed in Oregon, insecticide blamed in largest bee die-off in recorded history,” and “Oregon bans dinotefuran after bee deaths.”

Six years ago, the U.S. Senate’s unanimous approval and designation of a week in June as “National Pollinator Week” marked a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Pollinator Week, initiated and managed by the Pollinator Partnership, has now grown into an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles, and other animals. The growing concern for pollinators is a sign of progress, but it is vital that we continue to maximize our collective effort. Pollinators are vital to our delicate ecosystem, supporting terrestrial wildlife, providing healthy watershed, and more.

Reaction to the Oregon bee kill was also heightened because of a current epidemic, known as “colony collapse disorder,” which caused U.S. beekeepers to lose about one-third of their colonies last year. Researchers believe the epidemic is the result of a relatively new class of insecticides known as neonicotinoids, which are chemically similar to nicotine and are thought to reduce bees’ capacity to learn scents, making it difficult for the insects to find food. Many researchers do not believe that this epidemic has only one cause.

Consequences can be severe

Another result of this episode was that the New Jersey Assembly submitted a bill, A-4349, that, if passed, would ban all sale and the use of any neonicotinoids for any reason in the state of New Jersey. In the U.S. House of Representatives, H.R. 2692: “Saving America’s Pollinators Act of 2013” was introduced by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) on July 16, 2013, with nine co-sponsors. In the bill, it listed 10 “Findings” why a law was needed. Number nine on the list states: “In June 2013, over 50,000 bumblebees were killed as a direct result of exposure to a neonicotinoid applied to Linden trees for cosmetic purposes.” So, as you can see, the consequences of not closely reading the label and following the instructions spread all the way to the U.S. House.

After being alerted to the incident, Valent, the manufacturer of the insecticide “Safari,” immediately dispatched a company entomologist to Wilsonville, Ore., to work with the Oregon Department of Agriculture. In addition, the company donated funds to the City of Wilsonville toward the purchase and installation of protective netting for the trees in question to keep the bees from any further contact with the product.

The Safari label includes language specifically directing applicators not to apply this product or allow it to drift to blooming crops or blooming weeds if bees are present in the area. According to the timeline of the application, the Linden trees in question were in bloom.

The fact is, the pesticide industry has been engaged on the important subject of protection of pollinators. Bayer CropScience is building a North American Bayer Bee Care Center, scheduled for completion in Jan. 2014, that will be located at its North America headquarters in Research Triangle Park, N.C.  The Bee Care Center is part of Bayer’s Global Bee Care Program, which provides a more focused and centralized resource for Bayer scientists and external stakeholders. The Center will bring together significant technological, scientific, and academic resources with the ultimate goal of supporting product stewardship and sustainable agriculture. It will complement an existing Bee Care Center that was established last year at the company’s global headquarters in Monheim, Germany. 

Take time to read the label and follow instructions

As a state pesticide regulator in my past life, I wrote many warning letters and issued fines to applicators for use and application of a pesticide product inconsistent with its labeling. The label is the law, and even if a homeowner violates any of the prohibited language on the label, he or she is in violation of state and federal law. One big additional issue is that if damage occurs and it cannot be proven that the application caused it, you will still be presumed guilty of the damage when lawyers and property owners see your warning letter or fine by the state regulatory agency.

With the number of pesticide applications made every day in the United States, you would expect to find numerous cases of misuse or damage. There is a pesticide regulatory agency in each state to field calls and make inspections involving alleged incidents of pesticide misuse and routine use. If this was a major problem, we would all know about it as would the public. Nevertheless, any bad publicity could be a reason for additional laws and regulation, and could result in the loss of products by an EPA action.

Every label, every information sheet and training material says, “READ AND FOLLOW LABEL DIRECTIONS.” Let’s commit to doing this for the good of our companies and our industry.


Tom Delaney is director of government affairs at the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET).

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