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Who Needs Pesky Product Safety Regulations?

So, how’s deregulation working out for ya?

A few days ago, Scotts Miracle-Gro (whose brands include Ortho, Scotts, Miracle-Gro, Roundup, Earthgro, Black Magic, Hyponex, Osmocote, Morning Song, Whitney Farms, Supersoil, Bovung, and Country Pride) agreed to plead guilty and pay $4.5 million in fines, for not one but two product safety incidents.

The first incident involved selling wild birdseed that was coated with a pesticide that is toxic to birds. The company coated their birdseed so that it would not be eaten by insects while in storage, and continued to do so even after multiple warnings — including from their own employees — that it was “extremely toxic”.

The second (and separate) incident involved falsifying EPA pesticide registrations for their lawn and garden products, even going so far as to tell the EPA that they must have lost their files.

And what steps is the company taking to recover from this? They just announced that they are increasing spending on advertising 28% to $141 million total (31 times the amount of the fine). This includes a deal with Major League Baseball to hang “Scotts is Used Here” banners in ballparks to “give homeowners the illusion that they can have Fenway Park in their back yard just by dumping on some Weed ‘N Feed”. Even worse, Scotts just announced a “partnership” with the National Wildlife Federation, which sounds like a blatant attempt to greenwash their bad reputation.

Meanwhile, Scotts is leading a battle in Florida to overturn bans on the use of nitrogen fertilizer on lawns during the summer. These fertilizers wash off during the rainy summer season and cause massive (and toxic) blooms of red-tide and green slime, hurting not just wildlife but also tourism, but the bans are bad for Scott’s profits.

Oh, and Jim Hagedorn, the CEO who was ultimately responsible for all this? Still at the helm of the company, despite comments like this:

Hagedorn is the sole reason for this issue. He has created a toxic culture (literally) based purely on profit and greed and his warped business sense. I know quite a few former Scotts employees that are highly talented and very ethical people that were pushed out by Hagedorn in his effort to create high turnover in order to “keep ideas fresh”.

Hagedorn makes Mr. Burns look angelic. He is the poster child for what’s wrong with corporate america.

You know, some politicians say that we don’t need regulations, that consumers should just stop buying products from companies they don’t like. As for the former, we would never have known about this company selling deadly birdseed if not for the federal government. But as for the latter, it sounds like a consumer boycott would be a very good idea.

UPDATE: Apparently the National Wildlife Federation has changed their mind and will now “end the partnership”.

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13 Comments

  1. TJ wrote:

    Unfortunately I don’t really buy those products very often so my “boycott” will go unnoticed. I will try to find an alternative brand when I go to buy my one bottle of round up in the spring though.

    Monday, January 30, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink
  2. ebdoug wrote:

    I am so careful to inspect the seed for coating before I use it. We had dried out lawns this summer which gave me the excuse to replant. I bought seed(Scotts) from Home Depot, got it home, read the label about the coating, sent it right back. Went to Agway and got a 50 lb bag.
    I have a room full of birds (finches and canaries) flying loose. I use the grass seed to plant for first the cats, then after a few days it goes to the birds. Any coating would kill the birds and make the cats sick.
    Someone wanted to use round up on my driveway. No, no, no. No pesticides.
    The chicken house is again regenerating rats. The cats are having a ball catching them.

    Monday, January 30, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Permalink
  3. Sammy wrote:

    I had someone argue with me about regulations requiring food manufacturers to list their ingredients, with the argument that I can “just grow my own food” if I don’t like it. No really, actually, that happened. His reasoning was that first they (evil gov’t) make you tell consumers what is in your product, and the next thing you know they’ll be telling you WHAT to put in your product. Because, you know, that’s what overbearing, angry black First Ladies do. I could not get him to acknowledge that we are better off knowing what we are buying and that the cost to tell us is so insignificant as to not be statistical.

    Monday, January 30, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink
  4. carol wrote:

    I just threw away the Morning Song suet I had bought at Safeway. I’m now boycotting it and not buying any more from Safeway. I’ve made a copy of the list of products and will find a store that doesn’t carry these products. Boycott!! Boycott!! Boycott!!

    Monday, January 30, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Permalink
  5. Don in Waco wrote:

    Weed and feed would die its own death if consumers were even remotely eductated…or cared. Fertilizing and weed pre-emergents are effective at different times. In Texas, pre-emergents should be applied in the fall for broadleaf weeds and in early spring for annual and grassy weeds. Fertilizer isn’t needed until late April when the grass starts to actively grow. To feed when you weed is just adding nutrients to the rainwater runoff. I’d call such homeowners lazy but they seem to really enjoy the weekly mowing that all that fertilizer and water create. My yard gets compost which helps preserve what little moisture we get naturally. I’d rather not put drinking water on the lawn, thank you. As for the birds, I feed ‘em chicken scratch I get from the feed store which is about $9/50#. I assume its not poisonous if its supposed to feed chickens.

    Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink
  6. My grandfather worked in a “less regulated” tire factory. He, along with many of his co-workers, developed lung cancer at an early age. Kind of like what’s going on in China right now. Not the kind of country I want to live in!

    Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Permalink
  7. PatriotSGT wrote:

    “So, how’s deregulation working out for ya?”

    Product safety regulations are good. Relevent consumer information about product risks are good. Promoting healthy choices and safety are good.

    But there are also unneeded burdens in regulation that choke businesses and add to disfunction. Point in casae. My wife runs a daycare for kids. Been doing it for 15 years. She has a degree in early childhood education, has attended all the state classes to earn the highest level of provider status. She sees her parents every day and talks to and advises them every day. She’s really good at helping new parents and identifying potential problems early so they can be addressed. She has a waiting list of people who want her services.
    2 years ago the state thought it would be a good idea to have parents “sign in/out their children” to the day care, daily. So my wife made up a weekly sign in sheet with all the parent/child names and 5 days, to sign them in and out. She was told the state supervisor would inspect these documents during regular visits. Now, this year they want individual, day by day, child by child sign in and out sheets and she has to mail them into the supervisor office. 10 kids, 5 days per week, 50 sheets of paper, plus envelopes, postage and the administrative time to execute.
    Would you rather your daycare provider spend time teaching and developing your children, or managing paperwork that will likely never get read. She also already has to keep a daily log of what food is served to what children, how often (ie. breakfast, lunch and snack) which again is 10 kids X 5 days X 3 meals, recorded on paper that no-one from the state will take the time to read. In both cases no supervisor has ever commented on the content of the logs, only whether or not they exist.

    These are examples of the kind of regulation that needlessly chokes small business and wastes money.

    Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink
  8. Iron Knee wrote:

    PatriotSgt, I completely agree with you. I once worked in a preschool and my wife used to run her own school, and some of the regulations they have to put up with are beyond ridiculous.

    But I want to add a point. Most of the “choking” regulations you talk about were not added to protect children (even if they were done in the name of protecting children), they were done to eliminate competition (mostly competition from small operations like your wife’s daycare). These regulation don’t “needlessly” choke small businesses, they were deliberately designed to choke small businesses, to protect big businesses from competition.

    A similar case in point. I live in Portland, and a few years ago the city changed their health laws for restaurants to remove many of the more onerous, outdated, or useless regulations. As a result, Portland has seen a incredible blossoming of “food carts” that sell delicious food at cheap prices. A major travel magazine even rated Portland the best street food in the world. And these food carts have led to even better normal restaurants and a thriving food culture here.

    Why haven’t other cities followed suit? Because existing restaurants don’t want the competition. They can’t say that, so they claim that all those regulations are there to protect your health (which they do not). Of course there are some regulations that do protect your health, but there are many more that are mainly there to quash competition from startups (like the ones you mention).

    The problem is that many politicians claim to be against government regulation, but they do nothing to remove the regulations that actually hurt small businesses and waste money. Instead, they get rid of the regulations that do protect us (e.g., environmental and pollution regulations, banking regulations, etc.), but which are unpopular with big corporate interests (which coincidentally have the money to make large campaign contributions).

    I’m strongly for free markets and capitalism, but I react negatively to most politicians who campaign on eliminating regulations, many of them are really just shills for big corporations that want to eliminate competition or keep them from polluting or screwing over their employees and customers. It is ironic that it took a progressive city like Portland to really remove unnecessary regulations, resulting in an actual free market in the restaurant business.

    Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Permalink
  9. PATRIOTSGT wrote:

    Your spot on IK. There is one other possible relevence for unnecessary regulation and thats the government itself. I live in a very blue state and it is ranked as having the 5th highest level of taxes out of 50 states. My theory also includes that the gov’t (local and state) creates endless unnecessary regulations to keep itself appearing relevent. Every year when budget time comes, they claim to have cut all the fat and can’t eliminate any more government or programs. If they do then it would effect citizen safety and particularly child safety or public safety. They then propose tax increases, but are careful not raise the sacred income tax. In the last 5 years they’ve increased sales tax 20%, alcohol tax by 9% (not a completely bad idea), gasoline tax by 5% and now want a 15% increase on gas. They also want a “flush tax” to save the bay, because they raided the trust fund that was for that resource. They even want to make septic system owners pay a $60 year flush tax. It all these extra taxes, not to mention a 2% bottled beverage tax they not want to increase to 5% (on top of the sales tax). It just goes on and on. We’re blue, the legislature is 85% blue, whose going to oppose them?

    Meanwhile they keep adding choking regs to maintain control.
    How’s the weather in Portland I may need a place to retire. :)

    Thursday, February 2, 2012 at 7:46 am | Permalink
  10. Iron Knee wrote:

    Related to your last point is that when governments (at all levels) actually do trim their budgets, they first seem to cut things that are the most popular, so that they can get people to vote for tax increases.

    Portland is famous for its lousy weather, but I actually like it (well, as long as I can escape occasionally during the long gloomy winter).

    Here’s a somewhat related article — http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/02/new-playgrounds-are-safe-and-thats-why-nobody-uses-them/252108/ — The rules and regulations to make playgrounds uber-safe is contributing to childhood obesity because kids are bored with them (and would rather do video games)! “Safety guidelines, which are admittedly important, can defeat the very purpose of the playground: rather than promoting physical activity, they are dampening it.”

    Thursday, February 2, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink
  11. starluna wrote:

    I am going to add some of this to my (growing) list of things to study. My theoretical work is in agency decision making, and agency capture (or lack thereof) is one of the areas that I study. I’ve long been interested in ECE/day care regs. One of my sisters runs an in-home day care and I’ve been floored by what she is required to do that has nothing to do with health or safety. But I did not think of it in terms of competition from bigger ECE/ day care companies.

    Restaurants are famous for their opposition to food trucks. I remember when some fool tried to ban the ice cream carts in L.A. Folks, especially in the Latino community, were unhappy about it. It was all about trying to save the dying ice cream companies.

    Friday, February 3, 2012 at 11:13 am | Permalink
  12. Iron Knee wrote:

    Starluna, I would be interested to see the results of that. Although I imagine it will be difficult to accurately discern the true purpose of such regulations, since motivations are easy to disguise and they have plenty of incentive to hide their true intentions.

    One last example. I think most IP laws do the same thing — protect large businesses from new competition. It is ironic that in the days of the founding of our country, we freely stole intellectual property from countries in Europe. But now we are the bullies trying to overprotect our IP.

    Friday, February 3, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink
  13. starluna wrote:

    I have one student currently crafting a study looking at copyright law. His concern is that current copyright laws are contrary to the constitutional purpose of copyright law. I was hoping he’d go with his original idea of investigating attitudes and beliefs around illegal downloading and copyright violation. But this study is also very good.

    There’s all kinds of theory we use to determine motivation. Usually I dispense with that and focus on outcome. I don’t care what was in people’s heart of hearts (although that is often more transparent than you would think). I find that obsessing over intent is a waste of time and simply a diversion. If there are disproportionate advantages to one stakeholder group that are not supported by the stated purpose of the law, that is sufficient to make recommendations for modification. At least that’s how I roll.

    Friday, February 3, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

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