Killing Cockroaches: A New Federal Hate Crime?

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

Marc Morano Voice Over (VO): Almost no living creatures on the face of the earth are more universally reviled than cockroaches. For most people, cockroaches are creepy, crawly, disgusting vermin. Exterminators make their living killing them. When director Paul Verhoeven needed an enemy that would receive absolutely no audience sympathy in his movie "Starship Troopers," he created giant cockroach-like bugs. StarShip Troopers clip "I say kill 'em all!" It was then quite surprising when the film "Joe's Apartment" humanized roaches, even having them talk, sing and dance.

Roach Movie Clip: Roaches dancing in front of fake waves.

VO: But the roaches still terrorized. Clip: Roaches in Pizza, person screams Roach talking (movie clip): "You're going to get a roach in every friggin meal for the rest of your life." (Clips: Roaches fall on girl on couch)

VO: So, to many viewers it was puzzling to see this disclaimer in the credits announcing that no animals were harmed during the making of this movie. Meaning cockroaches were monitored to ensure none were harmed during the filming.

Roach Talking: "This is a breakthrough in interspecies diplomacy."

VO: The star of the film actor Jerry O'Connell was astonished that a cockroach monitor was on site and that a "roach adoption program" was initiated. "People make their living killing these things," he said.

Rosa: "We monitored Joe's Apartment from the earliest stage of production."

The American Humane Association was responsible for monitoring the treatment of the cockroaches in the movie. Karen Rosa is the Humane Association's spokesman.

Rosa: "All of the animals were put on the planet on the same time and it's not for us to discern the value or not of any particular life."

VO: But cockroaches?

Roach Talking: "No human being has ever saved the life of a cockroach."

VO: Rosa Explains that the Screen Actors Guild contractually mandates that any animal in a film, yes even roaches, are to be protected and have on site monitoring.

Rosa: "Our philosophy is that we protect animals, all animals in film and television and our definition of an animal is any sentient being which means we protect everything from an ant to an elephant."

Roach Talking: "You saved my life."\tab

VO: At the time of filming, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA, refused the Human Associations request to act as the cockroach monitor on Joe's Apartment. They said in a letter that roaches were "so far down on the animal would be a huge laughing matter...were our contributors to find out." The letter added, "Like everyone else in New York City, we kill every cockroach we can get near."

Roach Talking: "Can't we all just get along?'

VO: Many dismissed the protection of cockroaches in Joe's Apartment as Hollywood taking the politically correct cause of animal rights too far. But a soap manufacturer in North Carolina says this type of thinking has infested the US government. Charlie Sutherland is the owner and operator of Charlie's Soap; a small family run business. The soap is vegetable based, non-toxic, hypoallergenic, with no bleaches or dyes and has been internationally certified as biodegradable. Sutherland expected the government would be happy with his environmentally friendly product. So he was unprepared one day last spring when two government agents representing the Environmental protection Agency paid a visit.

Sutherland: "I was quite surprised when they said that they were on serious business and the did not want to buy some soap."

Sutherland: "the serious business was that we were probably in violation of some of the statutes and I didn't have a clue what they were talking about."

VO: Jennifer Craver, Sutherland's office manager recalls the day the govt. agents arrived:

Craver: "They came in one afternoon, told us who they were and what they wanted. Charlie at first acted like you've got to be kidding, you know, the more they talked about it, I just kept thinking why are they here?"

VO: The EPA agents wanted to talk about the wording on the label of Charlie's Soap.

Marc Stand-up: The Product makes all sorts of claims. From cleaning false teeth to diesel engines and even pinesap and poop. But it was the labels mention of the word cockroach that brought government agents to the door."

Sutherland: Reading label "full strength spray, chokes them on the bubbles and drops them dead in their tracks."

Morano Reask: "What was on your label that caused the problem?"

Sutherland: "The part of the label that said the soap killed cockroaches and they considered that an incident and it needed to be investigated."

VO: The agents said that Charlie's Soap was in probable violation of EPA pesticide regulations.

\tab Sutherland: "They mentioned that we may be trying to sell an unregistered insecticide."

VO: American Investigator has obtained these documents from the EPA detailing their investigation into Charlie's Soap as an unregistered pesiticide. [document with "pesticide inspector" and "possible sale of unregistered product"] Sutherland does not claim to be marketing his product as a pesticide. He says that it's simply a household soap. As for his claim that the bubbles choke cockroaches -

Sutherland: "Most any soap will do the same thing. I mean Ivory soap will kill cockroaches." "I'm only telling the truth. What's the big deal here?

VO: Jim Burnette is the Deputy Pesticide Administrator in North Carolina, on contract with the US EPA. Burnette agrees any soap will choke cockroaches, but says what's bugging the government is that Charlie's Soap says so.

Burnette: "The label is pretty serious business." "It gets down to the law that says if you are going to make a pesticidal claim for a product, it has to be registered...the registration process is designed to protect the public."

VO: Registering a product can take a very long time.

Burnette: "This is a pretty involved process." "It can take 5-10 years and it's pretty expensive because the tests are expensive."

Morano Reask: "What is the potential penalty for violating these labeling laws?"

Burnette: "Under Federal law, you an be talking about fines of $5000 or more."

VO: American Investigator has found examples of EPA "labeling infraction" fines that have exceeded $100,000 dollars. And there are worse penalties.
Burnette: "...There can be a fine and some, some jail time."

Marc Reask: "Is the EPA out to protect cockroaches?"

Burnette: "I don't think the EPA is out to protect cockroaches. The EPA is out to protect you."

Marc Reask: "What is the worst case scenario if a lot of cockroaches choke on Charlie's Soap bubbles."

Burnette: "I'm not going to debate the - whether I think cockroaches are good or bad." "What were here to for is to protect public safety, public health and welfare. I mean that's what our law says, that that's the whole reason we exist.

VO: Charlie Sutherland doesn't think the public needs government protection from Charlie's Soap.

Sutherland: "They're really not protecting us at all." "When something is obviously tongue in cheek and is not a violation obviously, they ought to just leave it alone."

Marc Reask: "Did the government agents have any sense of humor about the whole process?"

Sutherland: "They kept the same deadpan expression and they, you know, filled out their cards and their reports."

VO: Charlie's Soap is not the only target of the EPA's labeling policies. N-O-Dor Pet Shampoo has come under EPA investigation for this label: CAUTION: May be hazardous to Fleas & Ticks! The shampoo warns that in order to insure [parasite] survival, these creatures must be removed to another suitable host before washing your pet."

Marc Stand Up: "Obviously, not a very practical way to go about it. Not surprisingly the company spokesman says it was meant to be a joke."

VO: The government has a different view.

Marc handing bottle to Burnette. "Have you seen this pet shampoo."

Burnette: "I think that would certainly be interpreted as if you leave them on your pet they're going to get killed."

VO: Meaning this N-O-Door label may violate the EPA regulations.

Burnette: "You could make a real strong case they're making pesticidal claims."

Marc Stand Up: "The company declined to be interviewed for this show, fearing they would only antagonize the government."

Kazman: "In the EPA's view there is nothing funny about what it does."

VO: Sam Kazman of the free market advocacy group Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) says the EPA has no sense of humor concerning such labels.

Kazman: "I think this is a joke and the EPA cannot take a joke."

VO: Kazman feels the EPA has lost perspective.

Kazman: "EPA is what's known as a single mission agency..." "They tend to suffer from what Supreme Court Justice Steven Brier has called Tunnel Vision."

Kazman: "They focus on their statutory purpose and anything else in the world that might detract form that purpose is simply brushed aside."

VO: The EPA's regulations do seem confusing. Here is Burnette's explanation of how the government regulates laundry detergent labels.

Burnette: "Some laundry bleaches say 'lighten, brighten and disinfects." When they put disinfects on the label that makes them a pesticide. That's a pesticidal claim. The same product or the same ingredients could be put in laundry bleach that says lightens and brightens your laundry. It doesn't make a claim to disinfect. That's not considered a pesticide."

Marc off camera: "So it really comes down to parsing words here?"

\tab Burnette: "If a product says 'removes mildew stain, EPA has determined that product is not making a pesticidal claim. It's just getting rid of the stain. If it says controls mildew, removes mildew, mitigates mildew, that is a pesticidal claim."

VO: Kazman explains the regulatory mindset this way.

Kazman: "Agencies that focus on paperwork tend to forget what goes on in the real world and for that reason the actions they take tend to have an other wordly aspect to them."

Marc reask: "But the EPA says they're out to protect the consumer."

Kazman: "More of it really has to do with the protection of bureaucratic turf and the expansion of bureaucratic turf and one way to protect your turf is not allow any joking at EPA's expense."

Marc Reask: "Does the government have any sense of humor"

Burnette: "I think the government does have a sense of humor, but - but you know we have a sense of humor about things other than pesticides." "...Because we're out there to protect public health, safety and welfare."

VO: Charlie Sutherland could face fines of over $100,000 dollars and even jail time for his label.

Sutherland: "I think the way things are now in government, you're in violation of some rule somewhere regardless of what you do."

VO: Sutherland acknowledges some people may find the EPA's actions humorous.

Sutherland: "Well, you want to laugh, I mean it makes great copy. For sane people, it's a hoot. But it's serious business when they spend our money on things that they're doing their job. And they are really not protecting us at all."

Craver: "You hear about how busy they are and they don't have enough manpower and you know da da da da, yet you know they're here investigating us. It didn't make sense to me."

VO: Kazman sees an EPA without accountability.

Kazman: "You find the EPA literally going off the deep end, that is chasing minuscule benefits at huge expense."

Marc Reask: "If the EPA is seeking a budget increase this year, what would you say to them?"

Kazman: "One question I would ask if I were on the appropriations committee is how many more folks like Charlie's Soap will an increase in your appropriation enable you to go after?"