George Hahn sells worm feces, also known as castings, under the names Worm Gold, Worm Gold Plus and Tree Rescue Solution. The products are registered with the state as fertilizers that improve the soil and help plants grow.
But Hahn got in trouble with the state because he also claimed that the products repel insects. Although the fertilizers are made from all-natural ingredients, that claim nevertheless caught the attention of the state Department of Pesticide Regulation.
The department said Hahn was selling an unregistered pesticide, in violation of state and federal law. Last year, it fined him $100,000 after a lengthy administrative proceeding…
“These rules were never intended to cover natural, nontoxic products,” Hahn said. “They are overstepping their bounds.”
State regulators are not budging.
Veda Federighi, ?the external-affairs director at the pesticide agency, said the law defines a pesticide as anything that repels pests. Whether they are chemicals and actually kill pests does not matter, she said.
“It’s anything that controls pests,” she said.
If someone makes pesticidal claims for a product, it has to first be registered with the federal and state government. Hahn said he was told by a federal official that it could take between seven and 10 years and cost as much as $3 million to get a product registered.
Hahn is being represented by lawyers from Pacific Legal Foundation, a legal organization in Sacramento that advocates for limited government role in the economy and property rights. Lawyer Timothy Sandefur said the department’s position is far too broad.
“Here you have a product that is a natural component of all soil,” he said. “So they’re basically saying dirt is a pesticide. And that has to be wrong.”