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update on the Ortho Elementals entry from my old blog…

June 15, 2012

Lately there have been several comments and hundreds of hit to an entry on my old blog when they were doing online searches asking about the safety of an insecticidal soap. The product is Ortho Elementals Insecticidal Soap and the post was Ortho Elementals is a LIE! (can you sense a tad of angst there?). Warning, a long post with no photos *gasp* and you may learn something (and push some useless stuff out of your brain). And onto the soapbox-

I have been wanting to do an update about this for several months now and the sudden flood of comments (dude I’m used to maybe one) has been just the kick in the pants needed. So quick story to get y’all to speed is: last spring received an email coupon for an Ortho Elementals product; one was an insecticidal soap which was something I’d been wanting anyway; next day learned about greenwashing and decided to investigate the Ortho product a bit; found Ortho has super bad karma and contradictory info about this specific product.

The reason I say Ortho has super bad karma is up the ladder it belongs to Monsanto and most of it’s business is making products that are really really bad for the environment and people. So I don’t buy any products from them, no matter what the ingredients.

My reasons for not liking this product (aside from the karma thing) are ingredients, and misleading usage directions.

The active ingredient is listed as Potassium salts of fatty acids – 1%, which seems to be the active ingredient of many insecticides and fungicides for organic gardening, including from reputable companies. There does not seem to be much in-depth research into these salts. From what I could find is that these salts can come from many different sources and there can be different variations like Potassium laurate from coconut oil or Dodecanoic acid which is also plant derived. But it could be synthetically produced as well. I’m not quite happy there is little info on it, even on Skin Deep. More concerning to me is the second (non-active) ingredient is “Other Ingredients – 99%”, oh? like what? probably mostly water, but maybe not. I do not like non-disclosure like this. It could be hiding other ingredients that an organic gardener would prefer to avoid.

Last week I sent off new questions to Scotts this time focusing on the ingredients. Specifically I asked what is in the 99% “Other Ingredients” because I have concerns about skin irritations. They said it’s proprietary and they can’t tell. Whatever. Also:

When we refer to a product being natural or organic, we are saying that the product comes from natural materials, and that it contains organic matter … Ortho Elementals Insecticidal Soap Ready-to-Use is made from all natural material. This product is not certified organic.

Don’t be terribly worried about the certified organic. Several products used for true organic gardening can’t be certified like minerals because they aren’t grown or contain carbon. They also sent me yet another list of goodies they want me to spray with their product. How thoughtful.

This isecticidal soap has an OMRI listing and logo on the labeling. OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) is an independent company which is supposed to review and list products that meet the USDA National Organic Program growing standards. The purpose of an OMRI listing is for large scale commercial growers to find the types of products they need for their crops and still get the USDA Organic seal. However manufacturers have been using the OMRI listing and logo to market their products to home gardening consumers like you and me.

The wording of the OMRI approval on the Elementals Insecticidal Soap hasn’t changed since last year, the current OMRI info on this product says (emphasis mine):

Restriction: May be used as an algicide/demosser, herbicide or insecticide if the requirements of 205.206(e) are met, which requires the use of preventative, mechanical, physical, and other pest, weed, and disease management practices. When used as an herbicide may only be used for farmstead maintenance (roadways, ditches, right of ways, building perimeters) and ornamental crops, nonfood crop uses only.

That confused me. A year ago when I email them a representative from Scotts (who owns Ortho) said:

The restriction on the Omri site is for using the product as a herbicide.

He also sent a list of all the yummy food crops I can spray his product on :p I responded right back with “The product labels do not mention an herbicidal applications. How could this be considered safe for organic growing on edibles when used as an insecticide if it is not considered safe for organic growing when used as an herbicide on edibles?” A different rep replied to me:

Ortho Elementals Insecticidal Soap Ready-to-Use is safe for use in home organic gardens. It is an OMRI-listed product and can be used for home organic gardening needs. The product is derived from the fatty acids of vegetables and natural insecticides. It is not recommended for and has not been approved for commercial, organic growers.

I like how she did not actually address my actual question AT ALL.

I contacted the EPA last year with my concerns about the product directions and the OMRI restriction. An actual person responded:

I looked at the label for that product and found that it is consistent with the information we approved as recently as February 7, 2011. The “for organic gardening” claim on the Scott’s label has been approved for a number of years. However, the EPA does not have regulatory authority over organic products; for that, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program has the lead. The EPA’s Pesticide Program ensures protection of human health and the environment associated with all registered pesticides, regardless of whether they claim to be organic or not. The Organic Materials Review Institute appears to be a private sector firm, so you might want to follow-up with them for more information about the claims they make about the product. From our perspective, it appears the label complies with EPA’s requirements.

Aha, they don’t seem to care as long as it’s a registered pesticide it seems. So I tried to get in contact with OMRI and couldn’t last spring. Their contact form work now though so I’ve sent off questions to them a week ago and have yet to receive a response :/

Back to this “requirements of 205.206(e)” business from the OMRI listing, it relates to the USDA National Organic Program and its federal regulations for Organic certification. Section 205.206 deals with crop pests, weed and disease management. The piece of regulation OMRI refers to is:

(e) When the practices provided for in paragraphs (a) through (d) of this section are insufficient to prevent or control crop pests, weeds, and diseases, a biological or botanical substance or a substance included on the National List of synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production may be applied to prevent, suppress, or control pests, weeds, or diseases: Provided, That, the conditions for using the substance are documented in the organic system plan.
Ah, we are getting somewhere So based on OMRI categorizing this product as something that can be considered and organic practice if it is used under the above guideline… it could possibly contain synthetic ingredients although Ortho claims it is natural (which isn’t a regulated term btw) and it could actually be botanically derived which is what Ortho is claiming.
What you should also know is that according to 205.206(e) is that before a farmer falls back on using this product (according to OMRI) is that you must first try all of the methods 205.206(a)-(d) for controlling pests and disease. What the heck are those? If you follow that link up there for the regulations you will see that the USDA regulations state you must try crop rotation, nutrient management, remove disease vectors, remove pests habitat, select appropriate crop varieties, introduce predatory beneficial insects, develop habitat for natural enemies of pests, use lures, traps, repellents, mulch with fully biodegradable materials, mow, livestock graze, use hand or mechanical weeding, flame or heat, mulch with plastic or synthetic mulches (ew), apply non-synthetic biological, botanical or mineral inputs – BEFORE you use this OMRI listed Ortho Elementals Insecticidal Soap.
Except that according to Ortho’s own reps:
It is not recommended for and has not been approved for commercial, organic growers.
Then why did you pay to get it OMRI listed? Oh that’s right, because the average consumer is going to see the OMRI logo and assume it’s okey dokey for the home garden.
Which means that they intend for the everyday Joe (or Josephine) to go ahead and start spraying this product like no tomorrow on his or her backyard veggie garden without having a clue that this is supposed to be a ‘last resort’ weapon against the evil buggies. Because we’re everyday people and the OMRI logo is supposed to mean it’s ok and we aren’t educated in USDA National Organic Program regulations. We just try to do the best we can to use ‘natural’ and ‘For Organic Gardening’  products and go by what’s in the gardening magazines.
So my Joe’s and Josephine’s, here’s a little (or rather looooong) caffeine jolt to help you if you’re really determined to continue on the path to home grown organic produce. Take a few minutes to research parent companies, OMRI restrictions and any USDA NOP regulations they cite. And good luck 😉
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