Q: Are “natural” insecticides as effective as regular ones?
A: Perhaps…..but certainly not always.
And the companies that market “natural” pesticides aren’t required to prove that their products work because they are exempt from Federal law.
Is this good for you, the consumer?
Pesticide expert Dr. Paul Guillebeau says:
“Companies that produce and sell conventional pesticides want EPA to make “natural pesticides” prove their efficacy. For chemicals that make a health claim, the Agency requires the manufacturer to prove that the pesticide really does “kill 99% of germs that cause grotesque oozing sores and bad manners in restaurants.” However, the Agency does not hold other pesticides to that standard. To register an insecticide on corn, a company does not have to submit efficacy data to the EPA. The Agency feels that the marketplace will eliminate ineffective products, and companies will not spend a lot of money to register a pesticide that does not work.
“Marketing pesticides is more than simply controlling pests. In a nutshell, marketing is making the customer feel good about the purchase. Once, I was shopping in a warehouse club, and I saw a fellow examining a package of ultrasonic devices that claimed to control spiders. Being overcome with ego (a common occurrence with professors), I felt compelled to tell the man that the ultrasonic devices were worthless against spiders unless the spider was crushed between the gadget and the wall. He began to replace the items and stopped. “I believe you,” he said, “but my wife has been hounding me to do something about the spiders in my house. If I buy these ultrasonic devices, she will think I have done something, and I will live in peace.” I realized then that controlling pests might not be the key element for marketing a pesticide.
“Many people are afraid of conventional pesticides. Media has pounded the public over the head with actual and perceived risks for years. The fear of pesticides, however, does not mean that people prefer insects to insecticides. This conundrum creates a niche for “natural” products marketed to control pests. These products are relatively inexpensive to bring to the market because some ingredients (referred as 25(b) products) are exempt from FIFRA requirements. If you wanted to sell putrescent whole egg solids to control silverfish, the Agency is not going to require toxicity data. Additionally, you will not have to demonstrate that putrescent whole egg solids will control silverfish.
“New companies are brewing potions of garlic, thyme, lemongrass, and other natural components and selling the products to control everything from termites to mosquitoes. Many people buy these products because they feel like they are doing something to control the pests without exposing themselves to pesticide risks. The sale of “natural” pesticides is hurting sales for the real thing, and the other companies are fighting back.
“Companies that sell “conventional” pesticides want EPA to require efficacy data for the “natural” companies. Their complaint is not without merit, particularly when the “natural” product is supposed to protect the user from mosquitoes, ticks, or other disease vectors. As long as the “natural” company avoids specific health claims (e.g., protects you from West Nile virus), the EPA does not usually take any action. However, everyone knows that mosquitoes transmit West Nile virus and some other diseases. The buyer may conclude the product protects against West Nile even if the product label does not make that specific claim.
“Texas Bug Juice is one product that combines natural products and claims to repel mosquitoes. Part of the marketing campaign is the risks associated with DEET (these products do have some risks, but they are highly effective against mosquitoes). From their web site, “The fact that insects avoid DEET should be a clear indication that humans should also.” I found this statement odd since they claim that insects also avoid their product.
“This debate is interesting and troubling. Because there is little or no scientific data, we have little foundation upon which to advise consumers. Just because a product is “natural” does not mean that it will not control pests. However, “natural” does not confer safety either. Cooking sprays are made from natural products, and they are very safe if used as directed. However, the spray can be deadly if used in other ways. It seems like a good idea to make both conventional and “natural” pesticide products demonstrate their efficacy and safety.”
You can find a list of 25(b) chemicals here.
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