Who Wants to Kill Birds?

Grumpy loves birds. He fills his feeder twice a day. So imagine his shock when he learned that Scott's Miracle-Gro admitted to selling bird seed tainted with pesticides. Was Scott's, the maker of a slew of popular lawn and garden products, in league with the devil? To find out, Grumpy paid the company a visit last week at their corporate headquarters in Marysville, Ohio.

Here's the Poop A few years back, Scott's decided to diversify its business by selling its own line of bird seed. It bought a bird seed company that had been in the business for years without incident and starting marketing its product under the Scott's name. Unfortunately, Scott's neglected to "look under the hood" and thoroughly investigate the product it had acquired. And that's what got them into big trouble with the Feds and even bigger trouble with the small, but very shrill, Scott's-hating crowd.

Toxic Seed See, the seed company they bought didn't want bird seed in storage to be ravaged by insects. (Leave an open box of oatmeal in your pantry for a year and see what crawls out.) So they'd been treating it with two insecticides to prevent this. Problem is, the insecticides were toxic to birds. Stupid, huh? Yep.

Some Scott's employees discovered this around 2008 and notified middle management. For some reason (probably fear of retaining their jobs), the middle management people delayed telling upper management about this for months. When upper management finally got wind of the truth, they immediately recalled all the tainted seed and notified EPA of the problem. Oh yeah, and they fired the middle managers who hadn't spoken up right away.

EPA Lowers the Boom The Environmental Protection Agency, not known as a laugh-a-minute crowd, was not amused. After assessing the situation, it fined Scott's $4 million for not doing its due diligence. Scott's paid up, removed the offending pesticides from the bird seed, and now sells seed that officially passes muster.

Are the Scott's Haters Happy Now? Of course not. They won't be happy as long as Scott's remains in business. You don't have to search far in the blogosphere to find dozens of crazed, lathered-up posts with titles like "Scott's Bird Seed Kills Birds" and "Scott's Miracle-Gro -- the bird-killing company." So what exactly befell the bird population while Scott's was selling the tainted seed?

As far as anybody can tell, pretty much nothing. Grumpy's meeting with Scott's included TV, radio, blog, and print media from all over the country. I posed this question to the group: "Have any of you witnessed or heard of any large bird kills in your area traced to tainted bird seed?"

No hands went up. The EPA has no evidence of any incidents either. Granted, Scott's only controlled about 10% of the bird seed market at the time, but the truth remains -- far more birds die from flying into living room windows every year than ever succumbed to toxic bird seed.

Full Disclosure Scott's paid my airfare and lodging for my visit. The Scott's haters will immediately conclude that Grumpy was bought. Not so. I only agreed to hear Scott's side of the story with no promise that I would report on it positively, negatively, or at all. Lots of companies in the garden industry send me stuff. If I try a product out and conclude that it's good for my audience, I recommend it. If I don't, you never hear about it.

In conclusion, Grumpy bets that Scott's will much more thoroughly investigate companies it acquires in the future. In the meantime, I will continue to feed my birdies twice a day -- using Scott's, Pennington's, or Cole's bird seed -- with a clear conscience. Chirp!

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