PetSmart has just settled on a $392,842 settlement for selling unregistered pesticides, including flea & tick products. Trust PetSmart to care about your pets or your family? Maybe not so much. [For the California DPR announcement and a list of the products, click here.]

If a product is not registered with the EPA, it has not undergone approved testing for safety and often contain pesticides that are no longer allowed for use in the United States. California has much stricter laws regulating pesticide products and those known or believed to cause cancer.

In California, any product that contains a certain ingredient must state that it is believed to cause cancer in the state of California. Manufacturers complain this causes a loss of profit and they must carry different labels to educate the California consumer vs. everyone else in the United States.

Brian Leahy, the Director for the Department of Pesticide Regulation in California says:

Pesticides cannot be sold or used in California unless they are registered by both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and DPR to ensure they do what the label claims and can be used safely without harming people, pets and the environment.

So here’s the rub. A few years ago, PetSmart was one of several retailers that were sued on behalf of consumers by the NRDC and other organizations for selling flea & tick products known to be harmful and not labeled correctly in the state of California. This article also refers to this not being the first time PetSmart has sold unregistered pesticides. Although it seems PetSmart was “cooperative” in remedying the issue, what does this really mean on a larger scale for you and me?

  1. PetSmart started its life in 1987 in Arizona. Currently there are over 1,000 stores nationwide. Currently they are the largest pet retailer focusing on the lifetime needs of pets across the country. That’s a lot of inventory and logistics to manage, even for a team of buyers and merchandisers.
  2. Buyers and merchandisers for the most part rely on their distributors to bring them products that are above board and not from the black market or, in this case, unregistered. Unless there is a protocol demanding for their distributors to give them more detailed decision-making information, the buyers are totally at the mercy of the legitimacy and morals of their distribution channels.
  3. Distribution channels are how most retailers purchase the goods that then are sold to you. Think of it as a funnel system. Thousands of products go into the funnel and are focused to their end market, in this case, PetSmart. The same distributors that work with PetSmart also work with other big box retailers. Depending upon how the buying department and corporation is structured, many companies are limited only to ordering from certain sources (distributors). Ideally this saves the retailer money because each new vendor that’s used costs them money and time to get set up and then creates more work for the accounting team to make payments, often with different stipulations from the vendors.
  4. Keeping this in mind, it’s more than likely these same unregistered products have been sent to many other retailers and are readily available in the market, not just at PetSmart.
  5. Some distributors have a vested interested in keeping bad flea & tick products on the market. In fact, legally they can sue the EPA if they feel a reclassification of a pesticide (like permethrin used in flea & tick products) would cause them financial harm. This actually happened not too long ago. A pet product distributor sued the EPA when they wanted to change the status from possible carcinogen to known carcinogen.

Where these unregistered pesticides really takes its toll is on the numbers of reported adverse reactions. Although the article above says no harm came to any animals from these products, it’s impossible for them to say this. Currently reports can be made to the EPA, the National Poison Hotline and to the manufacturer directly. The manufacturer is required by law to report these cases to the EPA quarterly. Obviously if there is no registration with the EPA there is no way to track these numbers. If the products were from a manufacturer who has other pesticides for your home or pets and you tried to report a bad reaction, your report would be kicked out of the numbers because it lacks the information of the EPA registration number.

Personally, using an intern to call the EPA and check whether a product is registered or not takes very little time and no money for the retailer. Even if they were checking 50 products, they could send an email and get an answer before carrying a potentially harmful product. Sadly, PetSmart isn’t very smart when it comes to deadly chemicals and products.


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