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Insect repellant maker hooped over new rules

New federal restrictions on the use of citronella oil in topical insect repellents are rubbing an Alix woman the wrong way.

Edie Stutter, who operates e3 Emu Products, is stuck with thousands of dollars in inventory, ingredients and other supplies related to her Nature’s Defense Outdoor Spray — which she makes, and sells across Canada. That’s because she learned last month that Nature’s Defence can no longer be sold as an insect repellent, because its ingredients include citronella oil.

“They didn’t even notify me that citronella has been taken off the market,” said Stutter, explaining that one of the stores she supplies sent her a letter that it received in January from Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency.

With Nature’s Defense generating up to $35,000 in revenues a year, the news was bad enough. But Stutter had already purchased her supplies for 2013.

“I spent probably close to $15,000 on boxes, new labels, bottles, sprayers, ingredients — all that kind of stuff.

“And it’s all stuff that I don’t use in any other products, so I am hooped.”

Health Canada told the Advocate in an email that it first proposed the phase-out of citronella-based personal insect repellents in 2004. It said tests on lab animals had indicated that citronella oil might cause reproductive and developmental problems, and that the methyl eugenol it contains has been linked to cancer.

Companies registered to use citronella oil in their products were required to limit it to less than 0.0002 per cent, or remove their products from market as of Dec. 31, 2012.

Stutter disputes these findings, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that citronella oil has little or no toxicity when used as a topical insect repellent.

Stutter also points out that other products containing citronella oil — such as coils and candles — are unaffected because they don’t come under the Pest Management Regulatory Agency’s jurisdiction.

She argues that the most common alternatives to Nature’s Defense — topical insect repellents with diethyl-meta-toluamide, or DEET — are far riskier.

“I have files and files and files, inches thick, on the hazards of DEET.”

Health Canada said enforcement of the citronella oil restrictions will involve retail-level inspections over the next year. Stores will be asked to remove offending products and distributors will be told that they can only sell personal insect repellents that are registered with the department.

Nature’s Defense Outdoor Spray isn’t registered, said Stutter, but she doesn’t market it as a personal insect repellent. The problem is, many stores display it with such products and Health Canada lumps them together.

“I’ve told the stores not to do that, but of course they do.”

Her battles with Health Canada actually date back to 2004, when the department warned her against selling an unregistered insect repellent. Stutter had to remove any reference on Nature’s Defense’s labelling to it being an insect repellent or that it’s DEET-free.

“I am just so fed up and frustrated,” said Stutter of this latest setback.

She’s decided to throw in the towel and discontinue Nature’s Defense.

“It’s just not worth the fight. I’ve been fighting with them for 10 years.”

Stutter also operates Goat Mountain Soap Company, which produces soaps, ointments, creams, lip balms and other products. But the loss of e3 Emu Products’ Nature’s Defense will take a big bite out of her bottom line.

“We’ve sold thousands and thousands and thousands, and people, every year they buy it again and again because it works and because it doesn’t have DEET.”

It won’t be until mosquitoes emerge in the spring that most customers will realize that Nature’s Defense is no longer available. At that point, said Stutter, they’ll probably resort to products with DEET.

“They’ve taken away everyone’s choices,” said Stutter of Health Canada’s action.



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