Editor's note: Following the announcement in mid-February that EPA reached a $1.2 million settlement with Amazon over charges that third parties had used the company’s website to sell illegal pesticides, PCT reached out to the distributor community to gauge their reaction. Not surprisingly, distributors expressed strong feelings about this “hot-button” issue, saying they were pleased to finally see some action on this important topic.
In addition, PCT contacted Amazon, and a spokesperson for the company provided the following statement: “Regulatory compliance is a top priority at Amazon. Third-party sellers are required to comply with all relevant laws and regulations when listing items for sale on Amazon. When sellers don’t comply with our terms, we work quickly to take action on behalf of customers. We will continue to innovate on behalf of our customers and to work with brands, manufacturers, government agencies, law enforcement and others to protect the integrity of our marketplace.”
Distributors responding to the following series of questions from PCT included: Jacqueline Angulo, vice president, Superior Angran, San Juan, Puerto Rico; Lon Records, CEO, Agri-Turf Distributing, Santa Fe Springs, Calif.; Karl Kisner, vice president marketing, Univar Environmental Sciences; and Karen Furgiuele, president, Gardex Chemicals, Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada.
PCT: What was your reaction to news that EPA reached a settlement with Amazon?
Kisner: “We were pleased to see the EPA actions on the sale of unregistered pesticide products being sold online. Univar strongly believes that professional pest control products should only be purchased, applied and used by professionals. Univar also takes great steps to ensure the products we sell are registered and approved by federal and state agencies. Univar takes the extra step to ensure we have all necessary licensing from our customers and will only sell products to authorized customers. Univar does sell products online, however only approved customers can access our store and even upon the placement of the order, Univar still makes certain, customers have the right licensing before a product is shipped.”
Furgiuele: “The action against Amazon is well overdue, but it isn’t a steep enough of a penalty, nor is there enough of a deterrent to keep it from continuing. How many other incidences with Amazon have occurred with both illegal importation, but also (the) sale of U.S. pesticides designed for the professional only [market]. Having a page set up for pesticide training for consumers won’t stop the problem or educate the public enough to help.”
Records: “It’s too little too late. The EPA first became aware of this issue of the online sale of illegal pesticides in 2013; it’s 2018 now. The administrative penalty of $1.2 million is a drop in the bucket. That’s only $300 per violation. If a distributor of specialty ag chemicals had been doing that they would have been put out of business. The fines would have been much more than a speeding ticket fine.”
Angulo: “We agree that pesticide selling/distribution is a serious matter and in this particular case, the products sold by Amazon were not even regulated (registered) with the US EPA. That doesn’t provide the consumer with the proper guarantee, nor provide any kind of certainty that the product is safe for the environment. We agree with the laws and regulations regulating pesticides, like FIFRA and state regulations.
PCT: Based on your understanding of the marketplace, how serious of a problem is the distribution of illegal pesticides on the internet?
Records: “Illegal pesticides can harm a lot of different people other than the people who are buying it. Even if you’re selling legal pesticides it shouldn’t be done on the internet because you don’t know who’s buying it or using it. EPA is very late in addressing this serious problem and Amazon has been facilitating this problem.”
Furgiuele: “The problem of internet sales, especially here in Canada, is a major concern. Besides illegal importation from outside of North America, we see most of the problem in homeowners buying products from U.S. consumers searching for pest control products who end up on U.S. websites, many offering shipping to Canada. It’s simply a matter of clicking a few buttons and waiting for UPS to deliver. Amazon is still a problem within Canada itself and have been approached by the PMRA (Pest Management Regulatory Agency). Requiring a license to purchase for commercial registered products has helped. And with all of the reporting required for every sale, it’s harder to sell and ship illegally over the internet.”
Angulo: “It is very serious. Even for EPA-registered products, some states or territories like Puerto Rico impose stricter restrictions, like requiring a local registration, and the states also classify active ingredients as Restricted Use Pesticides (RUP) as they see fit. If someone wants to buy a RUP in Puerto Rico a state-issued license is required and therefore educational courses are required to obtain it. We can find many products over the internet that in Puerto Rico are classified as Restricted Use and it is evident that using the web they can buy those products without going through the regulatory processes. It is obvious that these websites are not taking these regulatory controls seriously and therefore they are not being followed.”
PCT: While this action is targeted at the consumer market, does it have any implications for the professional pest control market? If so, what are they?
Furgiuele: “The professional pest control operator in Canada is faced with a very limited range of active ingredients and formulations. They see the products available in the U.S. through advertising, conventions, and the internet, and we know a few are taking the chance and purchasing. There have been one or two incidents where a company has been caught and fined. The fines were significant, and as word got around it did serve as a deterrent to others.”
Records: “The sale of illegal pesticides on the internet has a serious downside for the professional pest control market. Proper training and certification is very important to the industry and ensures the responsible use of pesticides for the PCO, the homeowner, businesses, and the public. There are tremendous downsides for the professional pest control market.”
Angulo: “Yes, it does have implications for the professional market as consumers may not have the education or background experience that a professional has; this can potentially have severe consequences on the pest population like resistance issues and/or pesticide efficacy or proper use.”
PCT: Is there anything else you would like to add that we haven’t asked?
Records: “Amazon developing an online training course on pesticide regulations and policies will not reduce illegal pesticides continuing to be available on the online marketplace any more than reading the DMV vehicle code will stop traffic violations. All internet retail sites selling legal or illegal products should face stiff penalties. A $300 fine is nothing. Per the news release from EPA Region 10, “As a result, Amazon has created a robust compliance program comprised of a sophisticated computer-based screening system backed-up by numerous, trained staff” is marketing rhetoric that will not stop the basic problem of illegal sales.
Angulo: “Everyone has the freedom to choose where they buy and what price they are willing to pay, but we don’t know if these end users read the labels, and the label is the law. When pesticide products are not applied correctly by consumers, it puts the community and the environment in danger.”