It’s a good thing this case I heard about the other day has some humorous elements, otherwise I might have let out a yowl of frustration. It’s called Hahn v. California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), but it’s known in legal circles as The Case Of The Worm Poop.
George Hahn is a Cardiff, CA, entrepreneur who invented Worm Gold, a fertilizer made of worm droppings, or, as they say in the worm poop business, worm “castings.” I would argue that it’s the worms who actually came up with the fertilizer, but I’m not a lawyer, and this information comes via a press release from the legal firm that is representing Hahn, the Pacific Legal Foundation. The firm’s fairly well known in California for taking up cases in defense of business people, and they describe themselves as “a watchdog organization for limited government.”
Anyway, Worm Gold is organic, non-toxic, and in fact does not kill anything. However, Hahn got in trouble with DPR because he claimed that the product repels insects. In California, pretty much anything that repels insects is deemed a pesticide. DPR determined that Hahn was selling an unregistered pesticide, in violation of both state and federal law, and last year fined him a-not-so-funny $100,000.
Growers Aren’t Stupid
Now, I know some of you are thinking that Hahn deserved what he got. A woman whom I have great respect for said that everybody has to follow the rules and not make false claims about their products. What did the worm poop fertilizer company think would happen? Further, she noted that the economy is in the toilet and growers can’t afford to waste their money. Those certainly are good points. But most growers I know are big boys and girls who’ve been approached by more than one snake oil salesman, and they’ve got a well-developed sense of smell when it comes to fertilizer. How many growers who, confronted with a serious pest problem, will reach for the Worm Gold? I just have a hard time picturing that.
I mean, can’t common sense come into play? There’s also the fact that now that Hahn is suing the state, there’s a lot of time and money going to waste. Update: The judge initially issued a tentative decision that went against Hahn, but as of mid-August, had not issued a final decision.
Part of the irony here is that Hahn approached EPA years ago to try and get one of his products registered as a pesticide, but the agency declined, citing “uncertainties of the true nature of the active ingredient.”
As I said before, all of this is funny until you consider the ultimate ramifications. Hahn’s attorney, Timothy Sandefur, said that at a hearing last summer, a couple bureaucrats claimed that water is a pesticide when used to keep insects off plant stems. Enough already.