Minnesota Soybean Business

MSGA Executive Director: Labeling is the law

September-October 2021

By MSGA Executive Director Joe Smentek.

My youngest kid recently discovered a hidden treasure in the back corner of the family junk drawer: a label maker. In the hands of a 9-year old, it became a magic tool for messages about the contents of random boxes, a warning system for her brother and sister to stay out of her “stuff,” and a functional tool to let us know what things like “the floor” were called.

Her labels, no matter how dire their warnings, were mostly harmless, easily ignored and removed with ease. Unfortunately, not all labels are created equal. The labels on food give us a heads-up on when the contents may be expired. The label on a bottle of alcohol warns us of the dangers to pregnant women and impairment of your ability to drive a car or operate machinery. On cigarettes, they warn of lung cancer or other serious diseases. However, none of these reaches the top of the label hierarchy.

Joe Smentek is an environmental attorney and Executive Director of MSGA.

Labels on pesticides are at the top of the label food chain. This is due to the small statement on these product labels that declares: “It is a violation of Federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.” This is the genesis of the common refrain “the label is the law.” It’s a saying I’m sure you have heard many times, but isn’t as simple as it seems.

The term “label” as defined in the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) 7 U.S.C. 136 Section 2 (p) (1) means: “the written, printed, or graphic matter on, or attached, to, the pesticide or device or any of its containers or wrappers.” Labeling is defined under Section 2 (p)(2) as, “all labels and all other written, printed, or graphic matter (A) accompanying the pesticide or device at any time: or (B) to which reference is made on the label or in literature accompanying the pesticide or device …”

FIFRA goes on to describe the registration of pesticides, the approval timelines and protection of trade secrets. Then, in Section 12 titled “Unlawful Acts,” we get to the heart of the regulation. Section 12 begins with bans on selling mislabeled pesticides, bans messing with labels and even bans revealing confidential information. Section 12 (2) (G) states, “It shall be unlawful for any person … to use any registered pesticide in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.”

So, the old tried and true statement, “the label is the law” should really be amended to “the labeling is the law.” In today’s world, more and more of the label requirements are part of the “to which reference is made on the label.” This means everything you need to know is not always on the bottle. Websites, online documents, emails, etc. are all tools that can be used to lay out what you need to know when applying pesticides.

Pesticides are constantly under attack from many different interest groups. The last thing we need is another reason to ban much-needed tools, and the last thing you need is a visit from federal regulators or law enforcement.

Follow the labeling. It’s the law.


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