California Court of Appeal to hear “worm poop” case

October 15, 2012 | By TIMOTHY SANDEFUR

I’ll be arguing the case of Hahn v. Department of Pesticide Regulation today in the California Court of Appeal in Sacramento. That’s the case in which the state of California has classified a fertilizer made of worm castings as a “pesticide” simply because its manufacturer—businessman George Hahn—truthfully said that feeding it to a plant will make the plant strong enough to resist bug infestations. His product, Worm Gold, doesn’t kill bugs or hurt them in any way—it just makes plants “smell” bad to bugs, so that they avoid it. Worm castings are an all-natural alternative that even the Department of Pesticide Regulation itself uses—at the very same building where they held a two-day administrative “trial” and fined Hahn $100,000 for selling the stuff without their permission.

In our appeal, we argue that a non-pesticide product cannot be transformed into a pesticide simply because the seller truthfully advertises it as capable of repelling infestation. By that logic, salt is a pesticide because people can use it to kill slugs. Water, too, would be a pesticide, since gardeners often use it to kill insects. (The DPR has admitted that they would classify water as a pesticide.) Even something that can’t possibly work as a pesticide would magically become one—and would require expensive government testing and permits—based solely on an advertising jingle. If you sell dog sweaters saying that they’re so ugly that fleas will jump off of dogs who wear them…then your dog sweaters are pesticides.

That can’t be the law, and we’ve asked the Court of Appeal to overrule the Department’s fine. You can read our brief here, and previous blog entries about the case here.