Debate: Should Pesticide Labels List the “Other” Ingredients?

Posted on October 17, 2011

Debate: Should Pesticide Labels List the “Other” Ingredients?

This past week, health activists submitted a letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson proposed that pesticide manufacturers and distributors provide full ingredient disclosure on their labels. This may sound like a routine requirement for product labels, but as of now, “inert” ingredients are not required to be listed on pesticide labels.

Consumer Groups Demand Greater Pesticide Label Disclosure

There is some debate that surrounds this topic. For starters it is debated that full disclosure should be mandated as it is the right of the consumer to be aware of the kinds of chemicals that they are using in their households and so on. But at the same time it is debated that it is unfair to pesticide companies because some of the ingredients that aren’t disclosed are considered trade secrets. So who’s right and who’s wrong?

The Center for Environmental Health Research Director, Caroline Cox relates this issue to another important labeling standard,”Nutrition labels are required to tell you how much cholesterol a product has, but pesticide companies can sell products without disclosing that they contain chemicals that can cause cancer, birth defects, and other health problems,” she continues, “It’s far past time for truth in pesticide labeling.”

Attorney Wendy Park of the public interest law firm Earth Justice took on the role of filing a proposal letter on behalf of the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) outlining the risks that are involved when consumers use pesticides without understanding the health risks of all ingredients. One excerpt from Park’s letter states, “In most cases, the effects are truly unknown, and thus, pesticides may be registered before the effects of their formulations or inert ingredients on health and the environment are fully understood.”


Currently, Only Active Ingredients Must Be Listed on a Pesticide Label

According to the EPA website, pesticides contain both “active” and “inert” ingredients. The term “active” is defined as an ingredient that prevents, destroys, repels or mitigates a pest. In other words, active ingredients are the most damaging because they are the ones that are responsible for killing or repelling.  An “inert” ingredient, as the EPA defines it, is any substance other than an active ingredient that is intentionally included in a pesticide product to aid the active ingredients.

The EPA makes it known on their website that there are potential hazards that may come from inert ingredients.  The EPA states , “It is important to note, the term ‘inert’ does not imply that the chemical is nontoxic.”  In fact, if an inert ingredient is “highly” toxic then it must be listed on the label. The EPA is responsible for evaluating for toxicity of all ingredients.

Here are some uses of inert ingredients:

  • To improve product activity
  • For ease of application
  • To assist in the dilution process when the product is added to water
  • To aid in sticking or spreading the product on surfaces
  • To help transport the product into the target pest
  • For stability of the product during storage

(Source: University of Florida IFAS Extension)

An “inert” ingredient is commonly described on the label as “other ingredients.” The proportion of inert ingredients is listed as a percentage on the front panel of the pesticide label.

So, Why Don’t “Inert” Ingredients Have To Be Listed On a Pesticide Label?

It seems counter-intuitive that possible “toxic” ingredients don’t have to be listed on a product label, doesn’t it? Why aren’t all ingredients required to be listed? The reason is that the EPA wants to assist pesticide producers to protect their trade secret ingredients. Typically, manufacturers don’t want to list particular ingredients on their labels because they don’t want competitors to know everything they are using in their products.

Although “inert” ingredients don’t have to be listed on the label, pesticide companies do have to fully disclose all ingredients to the EPA. These ingredients are kept confidential by the EPA but are kept on record.

How Can I Find Out Which Ingredients are in My Pesticide Product?

The National Pesticide Information Center can help you find out which “other” ingredients are in your pesticide products. Their topic fact sheet states that manufacturers will sometimes provide some information on inert ingredients in their Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).

Consumers can also go through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to make specific requests of the EPA to receive information about other ingredients. In the case of the FIOA, the Environmental Protection Agency may consult with the manufacturer before deciding whether to provide the information.

If there is ever a situation in which an ailment arises as a result of pesticide exposure and a consumer needs medical help, pesticide companies may choose to disclose the “other ingredients” in their products to medical professionals who will need the information to treat pesticide poisoning. In this particular situation, the manufacturer has the right to ask medical staff to sign a statement that the information will be kept confidential – again, because of trade secret purposes.

What Do YOU Think?

Do you agree with health activists and think full disclosure on pesticide labels should be made mandatory?

Or do you respect that pesticide companies value their confidential information and don’t want to share it with competitors?

More Information About Pesticide Ingredients Labeling:

The National Pesticide Information Center is a great resource for pesticide ingredient questions, you can check out their website for more information.

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