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Hartz Mountain Corp Challenges Beyond Pesticides "Deadly" Pesticide Story

In a January 10, 2003 letter from the Hartz Mountain Corporation (Hartz) to Beyond Pesticides, the company identifies what it calls "numerous inaccuracies" in a Daily News piece, press release and letter to retailers about its flea and tick products and asks that corrective action be taken to set the record straight. Beyond Pesticides issued a press release on this matter and a letter to over 20 major retailers, asking them to remove the product from their shelves as soon as possible. Beyond Pesticides did not libel nor engage in product defamation, as Hartz Mountain claims in its letter. It merely seeks to provide the public with the facts behind a change in labeling on a product that EPA, itself, has reported on its website as being associated with a range of adverse health effects in cats, including reports of death. Beyond Pesticides has a longstanding disagreement with EPA's practice of not issuing product recalls and warnings to the public at the time that it identifies a hazard, allowing hazardous products to be used up or sold off. During that period of use and sale, additional harm may unnecessarily occur.

Nevertheless, Hartz Mountain would like Beyond Pesticides to "clarify and rectify" what it believes are inaccurate statements and that is what follows:

The Facts:

The products in question are Hartz Mountain Advance Care Brand Once-a-Month Flea and Tick Drops for Cats and Kittens and Hartz Advanced Care Brand Flea and Tick Drops Plus for Cats and Kittens.

On November 19, 2002, Hartz signed an EPA "Amended Notice of Pesticide Registration" for these products, which states, among many other things,

Upon the effective date of this amendment, Hartz will cease sale and distribution of this product as currently labeled in domestic markets. As soon as new product bearing the approved amended labeling is available, but in no case later than 60 days after the effective date of this amendment, Hartz will commence an orderly product exchange. Hartz will provide to customers a replacement kit which will include packaging that can be used to return any existing stocks to Hartz, with courier costs prepaid by Hartz and a credit to the customer for each package of the product that is returned. . . Hartz will not sell or distribute for use in the United States any stocks of the product returned to Hartz under this program unless such stocks have been repackaged and relabeled in new blister packs and individual cartons with labeling in accordance with the amended registrations.

According to EPA's website, Hartz Mountain Advance Care Brand Once-a-Month Flea and Tick Drops for Cats and Kittens contains: 85.7% phenothrin, a synthetic pyrethroid that kills adult fleas and ticks. Hartz Advanced Care Brand Flea and Tick Drops Plus for Cats and Kittens contains 85.7% phenothrin, 2.9% methoprene.

According to EPA's website:

9. When did EPA first become aware of any problems associated with the use of these two Hartz products?

The Agency first began receiving preliminary and initial reports of adverse effects to cats associated with these products in May of 2000. In March of 2001, EPA found the number of adverse incident reports and effects to be mounting and promptly began evaluating and investigating these incidents. EPA requested full incident report documentation from Hartz, consulted with veterinarians, and interviewed affected pet owners. Following a thorough evaluation of the incident reports and other information available to the Agency, EPA began working with Hartz to reduce such incidents and the potential risks associated with these products.

EPA reports on its website that it has received reports of pet deaths associated with the Hartz products.

7. What are the reported adverse health reactions associated with exposure to these two Hartz Advanced Are flea and tick products?

Incident reports ranged from minor adverse effects including skin irritation or hair loss at the application site and salivation to more serious effects on the nervous system, such as tremors (twitching of muscles) and, in some circumstances, severe full body tremors (convulsion). Unfortunately, in some cases, death has also been reported.

The Dispute and Beyond Pesticides Response:

I. Beyond Pesticides wrote: "The national environmental group Beyond Pesticides today asked major retailers to immediately pull off their store shelves tick and flea repellents identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as deadly."

Hartz challenge: "The EPA never said these products were "deadly." The agency said it had received unconfirmed reports from pet owners of adverse reactions. In many of these cases, the reactions were due to improper application or misuse of the product."

Beyond Pesticides response: The EPA reported on its website that it had received reports of animal deaths associated with the two Hartz products, as cited above. "Unfortunately, in some cases, death has also been reported," EPA said. EPA does not refer to these reports as "unconfirmed" and certainly does not refer to product misuse as the cause of death in the cases reported. Furthermore, Beyond Pesticides is not aware of cases in which EPA has pursued label violations or misuse in the case of these two products. [It is also of interest to note that Beyond Pesticides for over two decades has called for mandatory reporting by doctors and veterinarians of cases of pesticide poisoning, while industry groups have rejected and worked against the idea. At last count, eight states require doctors to report pesticide poisoning.] While Beyond Pesticides understands Hartz' interpretation of this sentence, the reference should be read as EPA identifying and referring to the deaths on its website.

II. Beyond Pesticides wrote: "'It is wrong to leave these dangerous pet products on the market after EPA has identified the hazards," said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides.'"

Hartz challenge: "If these products were dangerous, the EPA would have ordered Hartz to recall them. Instead, Hartz is undertaking this orderly product exchange voluntarily. The newly-labeled product will be available in mid-January, and the product formulation will remain the same. Until that time, it is essential that pet owners have access to these important products that prevent dangerous fleas and ticks."

Beyond Pesticides response: EPA, over more than 2 1/2 years (since May of 2000) has been receiving reports of adverse effects associated with these products. The language EPA uses on its website is: "The Agency first began receiving preliminary and initial reports of adverse effects to cats associated with these products in May of 2000." The agency goes on to say, " In March of 2001, EPA found the number of adverse incident reports and effects to be mounting and promptly began evaluating and investigating these incidents." Beyond Pesticides believes that cases like this require product recalls and disagrees with the product replacement approach that allows unsuspecting consumers to put their pets at possible risk after the manufacturer submitted a new label with an application method that is intended to reduce the animals' ability to "lick and ingest product." Going back to the EPA website, the agency explains that the new Hartz label will remove the "stripe-on application" method and specify a "spot-on" application "(applied to one spot at the base of the cat's head only) to reduce the opportunity for the cat to lick and ingest product." The enforcement of this type of knowledge and risk reduction measure should take place immediately without delay, given the "mounting" adverse incident reports.

Beyond Pesticides wrote: "If these pets can become ill through normal exposure to these products then children petting these animals will also be exposed and could be affected."

Hartz challenge: "Pets do not become ill through normal exposure to this product. On rare occasions, some cats may have a reaction to this product. The concerns about children are unfounded and alarmist. The packages clearly state "Keep out of reach of children."

Beyond Pesticides response: Beyond Pesticides refers to "normal exposure" as exposure as a result of legal labeled use. Anyone following the label of a pesticide product is engaging in "normal" use. It is now widely accepted that children and other vulnerable population groups are at higher risk to pesticide exposure. Unfortunately, most products on the market have not been fully tested for their impact on children, taking into account their body size, developing organ systems, and unique exposure patterns. For example, the frequent hand to mouth movement of young children results in ingestion of residues, not normally thought to be a route of exposure for adults. In the context of family pets that have liquid chemical applied to their body, Beyond Pesticides believes that the prudent course is to alert parents and prevent the possible secondary exposure to children that could occur through petting. There may be other exposures that could occur as a result of chemical rubbing off on to furniture, rugs, toys, pacifiers, etc. Beyond Pesticides appreciates the need to keep the product container out of the reach of children, but is also concerned about children's exposure to treated animals and the residues associated with that treatment.

Beyond Pesticides wrote: "Citing the danger these mislabeled products pose to pets, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) halted all shipments as of November 29, 2002 [sic] and signed an agreement with Hartz to replace both products with new goods and more explicitly warn consumers of the dangers of using these products."

Hartz challenge: "These products were not mislabeled. The EPA approved the original labeling and the language remains accurate. Hartz is making improvements to the current labeling to better inform consumers.

Beyond Pesticides response: Beyond Pesticides used the word "mislabeled" to indicate that the now "old" label was being changed, and, because of safety concerns, was being replaced by a "new" label with new application directions and new precautionary statements and warnings to protect treated pets. According to EPA's website, "To reduce such incidents and the potential risks associated with the affected products, Hartz is strengthening the safety precautions and alerting consumers on steps they can take to better protect their cats when using these products." One can only conclude from this situation that the "old" label is now believed by the manufacturer and EPA to be inadequate in providing the consumer with proper (or sufficient) direction to avoid adverse effects. In this context, the "old" label constitutes a mislabeling, even though it may have been thought to be adequate at the time that it was approved by EPA. Hartz may argue that the "old" labeled product was never "mislabeled" because it was approved by EPA and therefore was adequate. Consumers whose pet have been adversely affected will no doubt argue that the "old" labeled products were not properly labeled to avoid adverse effects. This will be a matter for the courts in cases such as the class action suit Judy Van Wyk, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff v. The Hartz Mountain Corp., Defendant filed in Superior Court of New Jersey Law Division, Hudson County on November 15, 2001. View the complaint.

As a courtesy to the Hartz Mountain Corporation, we are publishing a letter from the company's Corporate Vice President and General Counsel, Max C. Marx, and a statement that the company believes is an accurate representation of the facts. View both here. Beyond Pesticides believes that the organization's Daily News (12/5/02 and 12/18/02), press release and letter to retailers accurately represent the facts in an effort to fairly and openly warn consumers and retailers. Beyond Pesticides provided the public with direct access to the EPA's Questions & Answers: Label Instructions Tightened on Flea & Tick Control Products For Pets and EPA's Executive Summary regarding the Hartz products in an effort to ensure that the public is aware of all the facts and background from the agency's point of view.