Don’t Let Amazon’s Pesticide Takedowns Destroy your ASINs

What do tile grout, compression t-shirts, and vegetable wash have in common? They were all taken down as “restricted products” by Amazon recently, allegedly for being pesticides.

If restricting the sale of a poster featuring a poison dart frog seems unreasonable or even crazy to you, you’re not alone. Hundreds of Amazon sellers and vendors are being plagued by bad enforcement for pesticides and pesticidal claims. Fortunately, in most cases, it is possible to reinstate these listings with the right combination of appeals and listing edits.

COVID-19, the EPA & “Stop Sale” Orders

As you might expect, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has dramatically stepped up its enforcement against pesticidal claims since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is perfectly reasonable and responsible. Amazon was drenched in products with false claims last March and April, and the Restricted Products team worked around the clock playing whack-a-mole to remove them from the platform.

To better understand this entire issue, first let’s visit the government’s definition of a pesticide: “any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest.” Further, “when a person distributes or sells a substance with claims that it can or should be used for a pesticidal purpose (e.g. preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating pests), the substance must be registered unless it has otherwise been exempted from the requirement for registration.”

Does that sound broad? Yes. Because it is broad. In fact, it’s so broad that EPA examples of “prohibited claims” for unregistered products include “environmentally-friendly,” “better safe than sorry,” and “cleaning and sanitizing.” 

If a product makes pesticidal claims or is actually a pesticide, the owner of the product must register it with the EPA. In addition, the manufacturer of the product must be registered with the EPA.

Over the past three years, the EPA has issued three “stop sale” orders to Amazon. According to the agency, these orders are intended to “prevent sales on the platform of potentially dangerous or ineffective unregistered pesticides and pesticide devices making illegal and misleading claims, including multiple products that claimed to protect against viruses.”

The most recent stop sale order was issued in early February 2021. It listed 70 specific ASINs with which the EPA took issue. These were added to the 30 products in a stop sale order from last June and included disinfecting wipes, UV sanitizers, insect control products, and vinegar (yes, vinegar), among others.

Amazon’s False-Positive Mania

During 2020 and into 2021, Amazon stepped up its enforcement against sellers for unregistered pesticide devices and disallowed pesticidal claims. Why? Maybe it was a direct result of the “stop sale” orders, a reaction to concerns about false COVID-combatting claims, or a strategy to prevent additional government action in anti-trust and other areas. 

Whatever the reason, Amazon clearly added a slew of pesticide-related keywords to its algorithms. Spiders continually crawl through the catalog, searching product detail pages and keywords for forbidden information and restricted products.

When prohibited information is found, the ASIN is sidelined as a restricted product. Sellers on the listing receive a notification from Amazon, stating why their ASIN was suspended.

Unfortunately, the rate of false positives has been nothing short of shocking. Last spring, beauty masks were suspended as unapproved face masks, for example. In addition, seemingly harmless keywords flag products as making pesticidal claims.

For example, consider the compression shirt mentioned at the beginning of this article. In the product’s description, the shirt is described as antimicrobial. According to the EPA’s strict interpretation of the law, this listing runs afoul of pesticide regulations.

Attacking Pesticide-Based ASIN Suspensions

So when one of these ASIN suspensions happens, what’s a seller to do? Here are some steps that can help you determine how big of a problem you’re facing:

  1. Is the product a pesticide? If so, you must obtain an EPA registration number.
  2. If the product is not a pesticide, does the product detail page or the product packaging make disallowed pesticidal claims? Or, are there keywords that imply the product is a pesticide? If so, you must edit the product detail page (or packaging) and appeal the suspension.
  3. If the product is not a pesticide and the detail page is clean, appeal the suspension with an explanation.

Keep in mind, Amazon believes its technology is close to infallible. They assume that any keywords flagged by their systems must be problematic. You must explain in great detail why this is not the case.

Need help with any of these steps? Reach out to Riverbend Consulting. Our team will help you determine the root of the problems and – if at all possible – get your ASINs reinstated by Seller Performance or the Restricted Products team. When front-line solutions don’t work for compliant ASINs, we help you escalate and solve the issue.

Lesley Hensell
Lesley is co-founder and co-owner of Riverbend Consulting, where she oversees the firm's client services team. She has personally helped hundreds of third-party sellers get their accounts and ASINs back up and running. Lesley leverages two decades as a small business consultant to advise clients on profitability and operational performance. She has been an Amazon seller for almost a decade, thanks to her boys (18 and 13) who do most of the heavy lifting.

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