Worm poop is fertile ground for lawsuit
Author: Timothy Sandefur
The North County Times has PLF’s case defending fertilizer entrepreneur George Hahn. Excerpt:
Are worm feces fertilizer or pesticide? For Encinitas entrepreneur George Hahn, it’s the $100,000 question.
Hahn says his Worm Gold, Worm Gold Plus and Tree Rescue Solution, which are primarily made from worm castings, enrich the soil and enable plants to repel bugs. But the California Department of Pesticide Regulation says that claim makes Worm Gold a pesticide, and Hahn has failed to get government approval to sell the products as pesticides.
Last year, the pesticide department fined Hahn $100,000 for not getting approval…. The pesticide department said it’s just sticking to state and federal law. The claims Hahn made for Worm Gold and other products make them subject to regulation as a pesticide, the department said.
Hahn and the foundation say the department has overreached its authority by seeking to regulate, as a pesticide, any product that claims to reduce bug infestations. The lawsuit quotes a department official as saying that if someone claimed water reduced bugs, it would fall under regulatory authority–an assertion the suit called nonsensical.
Moreover, the lawsuit says Hahn made no bug-killing or deterring claims for the products themselves.
“Neither Mr. Hahn nor his companies ever advertised Worm Gold brand fertilizers with the word ‘pesticide,’ nor were claims ever made that they killed pests,” states the foundation’s opening brief.
Worm Gold doesn’t harm the bugs, Hahn said; it just enables plants to exude an enzyme called chitinase that bugs don’t like. Chitinase attacks bugs, so they stay away. Hahn says he increases the fertilizing potency of worm castings over the usual source by feeding the worms cardboard.
“Plants just naturally produce an enzyme that keep bugs away from them; it just smells bad to them the way sour milk smells bad to us,” said Timothy Sandefur, a PLF principal attorney who represents Hahn in the lawsuit. “And a healthy plant produces more of this enzyme than an unhealthy plant. So by fertilizing the soil and giving it more nutrients, (Worm Gold) helps the plant resist infestation.”