Understanding pesticide labeling

By Amir Rezazadeh

Editor’s note: This article grants one continuing education unit (CEU) in the Core category toward the renewal of a Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services restricted-use pesticide license when the accompanying test is submitted and approved.

Photo credit: ML Poe, www.ucanr.edu

The pesticide label is more than just a piece of paper. It is a legal document recognized by courts of law. The pesticide label is your best guide to using pesticides safely and effectively.

If a pesticide will be part of the pest management plan, understanding the content of the pesticide label is essential for using the pesticide safely and effectively. The information on the pesticide label is based on research, development and registration procedures that a pesticide must undergo before being used by a consumer.

There are two common terms you should know regarding pesticide labels:

1) The label is the information printed on or attached to the pesticide container. To the consumer, the label should be considered as the main source of information on how to use the product correctly, legally and safely.

2) The term labeling is defined as all the information you might receive accompanying the pesticide from the company. This information may include brochures, flyers, safety data sheets and other information.

Applicators of pesticides should review the labels of the products before purchasing, mixing, applying, storing or disposing of the pesticide to ensure that they use it correctly, safely and effectively. Information contained on most labels can be divided into four major categories: safety, environmental, product and use.


Child Hazard Warning
On the front panel of every pesticide label, you will see this statement: “KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN.” It is because poisoning is a major cause of injury to children.

Signal Word
A signal word indicates the acute toxicity of the product to humans by ingestion. It is displayed in large letters on the front of the label. The signal word is based on the entire contents of the product, not the active ingredient alone. Signal words are defined as follows:

  • CAUTION: Pesticides that are the least harmful and relatively non-toxic
  • WARNING: Moderately toxic
  • DANGER/POISON: Highly toxic

All highly toxic pesticides that cause acute illness through oral, dermal or inhalation exposure have the DANGER signal word and will include the word POISON printed in red with the skull-and-crossbones symbol.

Statement of Practical Treatment
Labels having the signal word DANGER must provide information to medical professionals in case an exposure occurs. An example of wording found in this section: “If swallowed: immediately induce vomiting by touching the back of throat with your finger. Drink 1 or 2 glasses of water and induce further vomiting. Call a physician or poison control center immediately.”

The pesticide label should always be taken to the emergency medical facility when an exposure occurs because this section provides proper treatment for exposure to the chemical.

Hazards to Humans and Domestic Animals
This section describes specific hazards, routes of exposure and precautions to be taken to avoid human and animal injury. These statements may also identify which routes of entry (mouth, skin, eyes and lungs) should be protected against. Examples of such statements seen in this section include:

  • “Causes eye and skin irritation. Harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through skin.”
  • “Avoid breathing vapor or spray mist.”
  • “Avoid contact with eyes.”

Personal Protective Equipment
This section of the label lists specific clothing that must be worn during the handling and mixing processes. Examples of some common statements regarding personal protective equipment (PPE) include:

  • “chemical-resistant footwear plus socks”
  • “long-sleeved shirt and long pants”

The PPE listed is the minimum protection that should be worn while handling the pesticide. Different pesticide handling and worker activities also may require different PPE.

This section of the label explains the potential hazards and the precautions you need to know to prevent injury or damage to non-target organisms or to the environment. You will find some general statements on every label, such as “This product is highly toxic to honeybees,” or “Do not apply where runoff is likely to occur.”


Restricted-Use Pesticide vs. General-Use Pesticide
When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies a pesticide as restricted, the label will state “Restricted-Use Pesticide” at the top of the front panel. To purchase and use restricted-use pesticides, a person must be certified and licensed in the state of Florida.

On the other hand, general-use pesticides will not harm the applicator or the environment to an unreasonable degree when used according to label direction. General-use pesticides are available to the general public for use.

Figure 1: Front panel of a pesticide label
Figure 1. Front panel of a pesticide label

Brand Name
Each manufacturer has a brand name for each of its products. Different manufacturers may use different brand names for the same pesticide active ingredient. For example, Pendulum, Pre-M and Prowl are trade names for the same herbicide active ingredient, pendimethalin. It is not legal to use different brand name pesticides interchangeably even if they contain the same active ingredient. The brand name shows prominently on the front panel of the label (Figure 1.)

Ingredient Statement
The ingredient statement is on the front panel of the label, and it identifies the name and percentage of each active ingredient. The active ingredient, identified by chemical and common name, is the component of the product that performs pest control. The chemical name of the active ingredient is usually complex. For example, the chemical name for pendimethalin is N-(1-ethylpropyl)-3,4-dimethyl- 2,6-dinitrobenzenamine. To aid in communication, EPA approves a common name to substitute for the chemical name.

Inert (inactive) ingredients allow the active ingredient to be formulated into different products and make the product safer, more effective and easier to handle. Non-toxic inert ingredients need not be named, but the label must show the percentage of the total content of them.

EPA Registration Number
This number signifies that the product has met federal registration requirements for all testing phases.

EPA Establishment Number
This number identifies the facility that formulated the product. If there is any concern or question about the product, the facility that made the product can be determined.

The formulation of the product can be found on the front panel of the pesticide label. The formulation name may be either spelled out or designated by an abbreviation, such as EC for emulsifiable concentrate, D for dust or W for wettable powder.

Physical or Chemical Hazards
This section shows special fire, explosion or chemical hazards the product may cause. For example, it will warn you if the product is flammable. Or, if the product is corrosive, it must be kept in a corrosive-resistant container. Examples of statements include:

  • “Do not use or store near heat or open flame.”
  • “Spray solutions of this product should be mixed, stored and applied using only stainless steel, aluminum, fiberglass, plastic or plastic-lined steel containers.”


Figure 2:Example of Agricultural Use Requirements on a pesticide label
Figure 2. Example of Agricultural Use Requirements on a pesticide label

Direction for Use
This section of the label is the longest part and begins with the statement: “It is a violation of federal law to use this product in any manner inconsistent with its labeling.” If the product is intended to be used in agriculture, it will have an Agricultural Use Requirements (Figure 2) box included in this section. The Direction for Use section will contain information such as:

  • Sites, objects, animals, plants or areas where the product may be applied
  • The amount of the product to use. This may be expressed as an amount per unit area, such as per acre or per 1,000 square feet. It may also be listed as an amount to mix per unit volume of water.
  • A description of how the product should be applied and by which type of application equipment it is most effectively applied

Storage and Disposal
Most pesticide labels will contain a general statement in this section, such as “do not contaminate water, food, or feed by storage, disposal, or cleaning of equipment” or “store in original containers only.”

The information in this section can be about temperature requirements. For example, minimum and maximum storage temperatures will be provided. Some pesticides can become ineffective if not stored under suitable temperatures.

Moisture is a critical concern with dry pesticides, including granular materials and wettable powders. If this is the case, the label may have the statement “store in a dry place.”

The label informs the applicator if leftover mixtures can’t be applied to a labeled site and must be disposed of in an approved waste disposal facility. For disposal of liquid pesticide containers, the triple- or pressure-rinse procedure is recommended. Options such as recycling or disposal of punctured containers in a sanitary landfill will be stated in this section.

Source: Applying Pesticides Correctly, 7th Edition, by F. Fishel

Amir Rezazadeh is a multi-county fruit and field crops Extension agent at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences St. Lucie County Extension office in Fort Pierce.

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