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Issue No. 4, Article 7/April 21, 2006

Is That What I Think It Is?

While the pace of commercialization of novel herbicide active ingredients has slowed significantly during the past 10 years, the introduction of generic and private brand products has steadily increased. It has become somewhat challenging for farmers, retailers, and others to keep track of who markets which active ingredients under what trade names. Several new players have entered various sectors of the crop protection business, bringing with them product portfolios often as diverse as those of the more well-known manufacturers and marketers. The business of crop protection has changed in myriad ways during the past decade and will continue to evolve for the foreseeable future. Additional generic and private brand offerings of various herbicide active ingredients will come to the marketplace, giving farmers even more choices but also potentially adding some confusion. The remainder of this article discusses aspects of generic and private brand herbicides.

Herbicide products are "protected" for specified lengths of time by various types of patents. There can be patent protection for the active ingredient molecule, the formulation of the product, the synthesis process used by the manufacturer, and so on. The company that holds the patent has exclusive rights to that particular product during the life of the patent. Patents don't last forever, and eventually patent protection expires. The active ingredient metolachlor is "off patent," so companies other than the original patent holder (Ciba-Geigy, now Syngenta) can manufacture or formulate "generic" metolachlor-containing products. In contrast, the resolved isomer of metolachlor (S-metolachlor) is still protected by patent, so Syngenta maintains exclusive rights to S-metolachlor-containing products. If so inclined, Syngenta may sign agreements with other companies that allow them to market their own private brands of Syngenta's patent-protected S-metolachlor products.

The terms "generic" and "private brand" often are used interchangeably, but there can be important differences between the two types of products. It is altogether likely that generic and private brand might be defined differently by different individuals, but the following discussion illustrates one way to differentiate these types of products. A generic herbicide active ingredient can be defined as one manufactured or formulated by a company that did not hold the original patent for the molecule. For example, a company other than Syngenta that manufactures or formulates metolachlor produces a generic metolachlor-containing product. In contrast, a private brand product is manufactured by the company that has (or had) an active patent and licensed another company to market (usually) under a different trade name. A private brand herbicide product is essentially identical to the original product, whereas a generic herbicide product contains the same active ingredient as the original product but is manufactured or formulated by a different company. A generic product also may or may not have other differences (such as different use guidelines, safeners, etc.) compared with the original product.

As more and more herbicide active ingredients come off patent, we will likely experience an increase in generic product offerings. Strategic marketing alliances between companies that maintain patents on various active ingredients and other companies will increase the number of private brand product offerings. Regardless of how a product is produced, named, or marketed, all pesticide products for sale in Illinois must be registered with the state, and this fact provides a useful tool when searching for information on a particular product or active ingredient.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) has statutory authority to regulate the labeling, distribution, use, and application of pesticides. IDOA maintains an excellent Web site where searches for individual active ingredients can be conducted (www.kellysolutions.com/IL/pesticideindex.asp). Clicking the "Search by Active Ingredient" link on the IDOA Web site and entering "metolachlor" returns the options to see products containing either metolachlor or S-metolachlor. Selecting metolachlor will bring up a list of all metolachlor-containing products that are registered in Illinois (eight products at the time of writing); selecting the S-metolachlor option produces a list of 36 registered S-metolachlor-containing products. You can then click on any product name to retrieve additional information for that particular product.

So how might you use this Web site to help determine which products are generic and which are private brand? A good clue comes from the column labeled "EPA Registration Number." The EPA registration number is unique for each product. According to the EPA Web site, each number contains a minimum of two unique numbers: a company number and a product number; sometimes a third number, a distributor number, also is included. The EPA registration number for Bicep II Magnum is 100-817. In this example, "100" identifies the company that manufactures or formulates the product (Syngenta), while "817" identifies the product (Bicep II Magnum). The EPA registration number for Brawl II ATZ 5.5L is 100-817-55467, indicating that the product marketed by Tenkoz (identified by the distributor number 55467) as Brawl II ATZ is identical (i.e., a private brand) to the Bicep II Magnum product (817) manufactured and marketed by Syngenta (100). By examining the column of EPA registration numbers, you can identify other products (Cinch ATZ 5.5L, Charger Max ATZ 5.5L) that fit this general example. In contrast, the EPA registration numbers indicate that, although Parallel 7.8EC and Stalwart C 7.8EC contain the same active ingredient and the same pounds of active ingredient per gallon, these metolachlor-containing products are manufactured or formulated by different companies (company numbers 66222 and 60063, respectively) and thus are not necessarily identical products.

In the near future, we hope to provide a list of product equivalents for various herbicide active ingredients. As an example, Table 3 lists metolachlor and S-metolachlor-containing products registered for use in Illinois. Farmers should be aware that the term "equivalent" as used in this example does not imply that generic products are identical in every way to the original product. Always consult the respective product label for application guidelines and other important information.--Aaron Hager and Dawn Nordby

Aaron Hager
Dawn Refsell

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