Who Wants to Kill Birds?

September 22, 2012 | By | Comments (26)
birdfeeder Who Wants to Kill Birds?

Nuthatch enjoying breakfast. Could it be his last? Photo by Ralph Anderson.

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!


  1. Steve Bender

    No point in continuing this discussion. Your have your viewpoint. I have mine. Neither one is going to change. Have a nice day! :>)

    October 8, 2012 at 10:31 am
  2. donshor

    Since you undoubtedly have a strong background in wildlife biology, I’m sure you already are aware of the difficulty quantifying the impact of pesticides on bird populations. Even assessing what happens when pesticides are applied to ag fields is difficult due to the issues of searcher efficiency and scavenging by predators. Even when researchers methodically try to do intensive searches for bird bodies, using systematic transect searches within 24 hours of pesticide application, they only recovered about 15% of carcasses in ‘seeded’ studies and it is estimated that 75% of carcasses are lost within 24 hours. So to put it in terms you might understand, even if dead birds were raining down from the sky you would have a hard time finding bodies.
    But that doesn’t mean, as you seem to be implying over and over and over again without the slightest evidence of expertise, that pesticides aren’t harming the songbirds. We know from the testing that led to the EPA labeling that mortality is likely. That’s why they put stuff on labels. ‘Cuz they test for toxicity.

    October 6, 2012 at 12:27 am
  3. donshor

    •• Chlorpyrifos is very highly toxic to common grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) and ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus)
    with an LD50 of 5.62 mg/kg and 8.41 mg/kg, respectively. Chlorpyrifos is highly toxic to common pigeons (Columba livia)
    and house sparrows (Passer domesticus) with an LD50 of 10 mg/kg.4
    •• Chlorpyrifos is highly toxic to chickens with an oral LD50 ranging from 32-102 mg/kg.2
    •• Chlorpyrifos is moderately toxic to mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos) with an acute oral LD50 of 490 mg/kg.2
    •• The American robin (Turdus migratorius) is the most frequently reported avian species killed in field incidents with chlorpyrifos.
    4 Currently the acute LD50 for the American robin is unknown.


    October 6, 2012 at 12:18 am
  4. donshor

    The active ingredients in Storcide are chlorpyrifos and cyfluthrin. Of those, chlorpyrifos is “moderately to very highly toxic to birds… Its oral LD50 [is] 21.0 mg/kg in house sparrows….’ A house sparrow weighs 25 – 40 grams. You do the math.

    October 6, 2012 at 12:12 am
  5. donshor

    Steve: you said, and I quote, “pretty much nothing … befell the bird population.” Your demand that I cite “documented instances of major bird kills” is ridiculous beyond belief. Steady feeding of pesticide to birds caused ‘nothing’? You know this…how? Because of your background in toxicology?
    The EPA knows what the toxicity of Storcide is. They require that it be labeled “Storcide II is extremely toxic to fish and toxic to birds and other wildlife.” Tell me, Steve, why might they require that label on the pesticide?
    You could look up the MSDS. Do you know what an MSDS is, Steve? Here’s what it says on the MSDS, which you can look up on your computer. It’s a pdf file. Here’s what it says on the MSDS about environmental precautions:

    “Highly toxic to fish. Toxic to birds. Toxic to wildlife. Do not apply directly to water,
    to areas where surface water is present or to intertidal areas below the mean
    high water mark. Do not discharge into the drains/surface water/groundwater. Do
    not contaminate surface or ground water by cleaning equipment or disposal of
    wastes, including equipment wash water. Exposed treated seed may be
    hazardous to birds. Apply this product only as specified on the label.
    Highly toxic to bees. Do not apply this product or allow it to drift to blooming
    crops or weeds if bees are visiting the treatment area.”

    See that there? TOXIC TO BIRDS. EXPOSED TREATED SEED MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO BIRDS. See that, Steve? Know what that means? That means you shouldn’t put it on seed that you’re going to feed to birds, because it is toxic to them. Got it?

    Maybe you should use Google before you shoot off your mouth next time.

    October 5, 2012 at 11:58 pm
  6. Steve Bender

    So again, all someone has to do is claim Scott’s bird seed killed their birds and then it’s the truth? Where is the proof? Were the birds tested? Could something else be responsible? All I’m asking for in this instance is proof.

    According to your logic, millions of bags of tainted birdseed MUST have killed birds. It simply must have. So where’s the proof? Where are the millions of dead birds? Please cite documented instances of major bird kills in which Scott’s seed was determined to be the causal agent. After you do that, tell EPA. Because EPA doesn’t have any proof.

    See response to Don.

    You’re exactly right.

    October 2, 2012 at 3:27 pm
  7. Betty Simmons

    The Cypherts could very easily have had their state agency in charge of environmental protection test the dead birds. Here in SC we’ve been asked to notify DHEC about dead birds so they could be tested for West Nile virus.
    BTW, you should see my Scotts-fed collards!

    October 2, 2012 at 12:47 pm
  8. Keith M.

    Steve said, ” Grumpy loves birds”.

    Well……….just not the ones that ate the seventy million packages of birdseed that is contaminated with pesticides known to be very toxic to birds.

    September 30, 2012 at 3:54 pm
  9. donshor

    Did you contact Scotts to ask to come visit their headquarters, or did they contact you? Who initiated this visit?

    September 30, 2012 at 10:37 am
  10. donshor

    Steve, you made the contention that “pretty much nothing” befell the bird population. That is a statement that demonstrates you are have little knowledge about toxicology or wildlife biology.
    I gave you an example of one likely outcome of using the pesticide tainted bird seed. The impact of selling seventy million packages of birdseed that is contaminated with pesticides known to be very toxic to birds is not going to be easy to measure. But we do have one anecdotal case where the seed is suspected in direct bird kill. We know it’s toxic. We know people fed it to birds. Why are you going out of your way to question the effect of the product with your ignorant statement ‘pretty much nothing’ happened to the bird population? You don’t know that.
    Are you genuinely suggesting that all that contaminated seed did ‘pretty much nothing’ adverse to the birds people were feeding? Have you read the MSDS on the active ingredients, or the precautionary statements on those pesticides?
    To put it another way: do you even read the things you post before you post them?

    September 30, 2012 at 10:35 am
  11. trey

    If we cannot believe Milt and Laura why should we believe you? All you have done is told us what Scotts told you. I’ll ask again, but no one seems to be able to answer the question. How could one Scotts employee be responsible for this as Scotts CEO say’s? Why would they do this? If you or Scotts have this information why have we not seen it? Maybe it’s published somewhere, but no one including you has provided the answer. This is not about “hating” Scotts, it’s about getting an answer to a simple question.

    September 30, 2012 at 9:54 am
  12. Steve Bender


    Do you even read these things before you send them? Here’s the first line of the article: “Milt and Laura Cyphert of Lakeside suspect that Morning Song Wild Bird Seed, which they purchased at an El Cajon Wal-Mart last month, is linked to the sudden death of nearly 100 birds in their outside aviary.”

    So Milt and Laura “suspect.” Does this make it true? Why, yes. Suspecting something always makes it true.

    September 30, 2012 at 6:48 am
  13. Don S

    “So what exactly befell the bird population while Scott’s was selling the tainted seed? As far as anybody can tell, pretty much nothing.”
    Maybe you missed the 92% kill rate in this story: http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/2670

    September 29, 2012 at 11:15 pm
  14. Steve Bender

    Scott’s has officially (and legally) admitted guilt. They have told the public what steps they are taking to prevent it from happening again. One of their employees has pled guilty in court and now faces sentencing (and jail). Scott’s is the only company I know of that has agreed to pay the fine AND admit guilt. I have never heard of another company (for example, oil spill in Gulf or widespread Wall Street fraud) pay the fine AND admit guilt.

    September 29, 2012 at 6:23 am
  15. Al Krismer

    This issue was brought out a couple of weeks ago. Why keep bringing it up? Chris, a friend of mine posted a reply to your comments. It certainly wasn’t hateful, just critical. Some of you guys are reacting with the same intensity as the ‘Scotts Haters”. Everyone should cool off. The Scotts officials should issue a reply admitting guilt and tell the public what steps they are taking to remedy the situation. Attacking the “Scotts Haters” isn’t going to move the issue to a positive outcome. Everyone just declare a truce and move on!

    September 28, 2012 at 4:22 pm
  16. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    I think my reporting technique is a heck of a lot more honest than the crazed conspiracy theory blogs out there who simply parrot the propaganda of their svengalis without asking any questions or even attempting to engage the other side.

    I’m not telling anyone whether to use or not use Scott’s products. Whether Scott’s advertises with Southern Living or not has no bearing. If that were the case, why wouldn’t every GG blog post promote an advertiser’s product? I simply maintain that being successful does not equate to being evil. Scott’s does market many organic gardening products. Does that earn them any points with the fringe? Nope. To those people, it simply marks them as the methadone of the garden industry. And there’s nothing short of blowing up the corporate HG and going out of business that will change their minds.

    September 28, 2012 at 3:27 pm
  17. keith m

    Steve Bender, since when are gardeners that make educated decisions about companies that are not environmentally responsibleconsidered to be haters? I feel that these are the people that are the future of gardening. Southern Living must stick up for it’s advertisers so they solicitated your willing help. It is expected in this day and age. For Scotts Miracle Gro, past experiences are are a precurser of the future, look at their past Steve, you may have to keep apologizing for them long into the future

    September 28, 2012 at 9:56 am
  18. A bit of a stretch | The Blogging Nurseryman by Trey Pitsenberger

    […] at Southern Living Steve Bender known as “The Grumpy Gardener” has written an article titled, “Who wants to kill the birds?” It’s about the recent fines Scotts Miracle-Gro received for selling poisoned bird seed. […]

    September 28, 2012 at 9:03 am
  19. Don S

    You flew to their headquarters to find out what happened? Great reporting technique. For people who want to know more about Scotts MiracleGro’s sale of 70 million (MILLION) units of pesticide-treated bird seed, their falsification of documents, and their failure to take action after managers were informed, here is the Department of Justice news release: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2012/September/12-enrd-1088.html
    Notable quote: “This is the largest criminal penalty under FIFRA to date.”

    September 27, 2012 at 11:51 pm
  20. Steve Bender

    The more hate mail I get, the more convinced I am that I am right. There'[s a certain cadre of gardeners out there who feel that a company can only get as big as Scott’s by lying, cheating, stealing, and exploiting. Did Scott’s make a big mistake here? Yes. Does that mean everyone who works at Scott’s is evil? No.

    NC gardener,
    Most people don’t know it (or refuse to acknowledge it), but Scott’s is the largest marketer of organic gardening products in the country. They do, in fact, sell organic lawn fertilizer. Here’s a link: http://www.scotts.com/smg/catalog/productTemplate.jsp?proId=prod100040&itemId=cat50034.

    September 26, 2012 at 11:00 am
  21. NC gardener

    I think some of the hatred towards Scotts is that they push large lawns (monocultures) and they push artificial plant “steroids”, per people who prefer natural nutrients for plants and soil. If you rely on Miracle-gro and pesticides, the common wisdom is that you’ll wipe out your soil’s ecosystem, and be perpetually reliant on these chemicals. Instead, use organic fertilizers like compost, meals (bone, blood, alfalfa, cottonseed), fish emulsion and dried kelp, and attract beneficial bugs with a variety of plants.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:44 am
  22. Chris Beytes

    For more evidence of how Scotts (and probably all big, evil corporations) are hated by some, read the comments I got when I wrote about the issue. In fact, all i did was use the Scotts example to point out to other businesses that they need to be careful or the same sort of thing could happen to them. Boy, some folks didn’t like that!


    September 24, 2012 at 9:44 am
  23. GrrlScientist

    it really amazes me to see that there are people who don’t recognise that a legal conviction is valid in their own country.

    September 22, 2012 at 2:01 pm
  24. Jean

    What’s up with people who hate Scott’s? I only heard of this from you and apparently living under my rock I had missed it all.

    September 22, 2012 at 1:56 pm
  25. grrlscientist

    obviously, you didn’t read what i wrote, otherwise, you would have realised that everything i wrote can be and was substantiated, which means it isn’t crazed or lathered-up. but then again, since you’ve been bought, i guess nothing i say will make a difference to you anyway.

    September 22, 2012 at 10:28 am
  26. Tom Mann

    Thanks for the report, Grumpy. I hope as many people read this (and understand it) as read and forwarded the original claims.

    September 22, 2012 at 9:02 am

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