COMMUNITY COMMENTARY : Worm poop versus the bureaucracy

What happens when green technology comes up hard against a state regulatory bureaucracy?
George Hahn, a local Cardiff-by-the-Sea resident, is the creator and owner of California Vermiculture LLC, or CV, which produces and sells Wormgold products and tree and plant rescue soil amendments (also known as worm castings or worm poop, i.e. dirt).
The bureaucracy is the state of California Department of Pesticide Regulation, or (DPR) the agency charged with the regulation, sale and use of pesticides in California. So I guess its worm poop vs. DPR.
The California DPR asserts that “you advertise that your product suppresses pathogens which eliminates disease, repels harmful insects but no beneficial insects, and allows plants and trees to survive in adverse conditions and causes bark beetles to avoid and not attack trees.” This language equals a pesticide according to DPR.
Attorney Gayle Mayfield-Venieris of Mayfield and Associates of Solana Beach, in response, stated in part: “What is most disheartening however, is that not only is this a naturally occurring product and not a chemical pesticide, but there is considerable evidence that it has an extremely positive impact on plant growth and repels some insects that have been very problematic throughout the state of California. Rather than try to fine and punish CV for selling this product, I suggest that DPR would be doing the residents of California immeasurable service by expressly exempting worm castings from regulation as a pesticide.”
Jeff Lassle is a former Environmental Protection Agency inspector and helped to write the federal and state regulations for pesticides. “The intent in establishing the EPA and regulations was to help people and the environment and eliminate toxic compounds and find alternative ways to combat destructive pests,” Lassle told me in an interview. “The rules were never meant to cover natural nontoxic products.”
“Twenty years ago the DPR would have treated Mr. Hahn as a hero, but today DPR has changed from supporting answers to the pesticides problem to extracting fines for income,” Lassle said. “This is nothing more than a mafia-style shakedown.”
Mr. Hahn though a corporation is being personally hit with a $110,000 fine that DPR has threatened to increase to $355,000 or $500,000 if he attempts to fight them in court. Is this an abuse of power of a state agency more interested in exacting money through fines than supporting alternative ways to reduce toxic compounds?
The prestigious Pacific Law Foundation, or PLF, has taken up this case of worm poop versus the bureaucracy on behalf of Mr. Hahn. At a hearing before the DPR, the attorney for PLF asked, “Can you drown a bug in water?”
Both Dr. Kohler, the DPR head of research and George Farnsworth, head of enforcement, said under oath that claims made that bugs could be drowned in water would make water a pesticide. If water was not registered with both the FED EPA and CA DPR as a pesticide, then anyone selling water for the purpose of drowning bugs would be in violation and would be fined.
Water and worm poop equal pesticide? So the “words” cause nontoxic items to become pesticides, not the content of the product?
What’s next in this saga of poop vs. bureaucracy? The PLF takes cases when government agencies have gotten out of control. The only way to bring them back under control and responsible to the people is to seek legal remedy through the courts.
PLF has asked for a summary judgment in this case based on the fact that the state DPR has no jurisdiction over nontoxic natural products. A summary judgment in Mr. Hahn’s favor would dismiss the DPR case. If not, the case is on appeal to the California Superior Court.
This is a small column, in a small paper, on a subject with huge consequences. Government, bureaucracies, and those employed by them hold a public trust. They are charged with serving and protecting people, the environment and our health and safety in our daily lives. I do not think bureaucracies should exist for themselves or forget why they were created. Just a thought. We the people …

Sheila S. Cameron is the former mayor of Encinitas.

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  1. illona says:

    Holy absurdity! I hope the DPR can pull the heads out of their butts long enough to recognize what fools they are. Why don’t they pick on someone they can actually extract serious cash from….like Monsanto or Dupont!

  2. anonymous says:

    ya know….it’s all about "legal liability".

    and I fault our insurance crazy/lawsueing culture!

    I don’t want a government who believes it’s their "parental" duty to protect me from myself…they usurping too much involvement…is my feeling! love and peace…lynnann

  3. Chris green says:

    Dpr parasites! Those corporate tools need to be reminded about the ‘spirit of the law’.

  4. Waldorf Mom says:

    I didn’t believe this article until I went to the CDPR website and searched for "worm castings" there you will find a PDF of the legal proceedings. I sent them a comment asking them to reverse their position on this case. You can do so also at:
    http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/feedback.htm
    Not sure if they will, but our voices should be heard.

  5. J. Huston says:

    This is beyond belief, if I advertise the use vinegar to remove the hornets nest from back porch will I also be fined?

  6. Satin-Matt says:

    Thanks to Waldorf Mom for posting a comment with some actual content.
    As a soil biologist I am all for promotion of vermiculture technology. But I wouldn’t be so fast to condemn DPR. In this case, it was the County Ag Commissioner that brought the claim to DPR. Why did the commish single-out George Hahn?
    Maybe the lesson is to be more precise about claims used in marketing a product. If you say a product kills stuff, then technically it is a pesticide, and has to be regulated as such.
    There should be more science available to back the product than the producer supplied in the case. Dr. Clive Edwards’ forthcoming book on vermiculture should reflect the state of the science.
    In the end, I hope this case doesn’t slow the development of the vermiculture industry.

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