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Lawsuit challenges EPA over pesticide-coated seeds

Renewing a fight that began five years ago, two environmental groups have sued the EPA to force it to regulate pesticide-coated seeds in the name of protecting bees and other pollinators. Seeds coated with neonicotinoid insecticides are used on 80% of corn land and 40% of soybean land, although researchers question their value against late-emerging crop pests.

The EPA decided nearly a decade ago that the seeds would not be regulated as pesticides as long as the coatings are registered and the effect of the pesticides does not extend beyond the seeds. The Center for Food Safety (CFS) petitioned the EPA in 2017 to write a regulation covering coated seeds. There has been no action on the petition since a public comment period in 2018.

“EPA’s failure to respond to the petition and close the loophole means these pesticides are continuing to cause environmental harm unabated,” said the lawsuit filed in U.S. district court in San Francisco by the CFS and the Pesticide Action Network (PAN).

The lawsuit requests a court order to force the EPA to act on the petition within 90 days.

“Science has shown that coating seeds with pesticides is not only ineffective, but can cause real harm to pollinators, workers, and farmers,” said Margaret Reeves, senior scientist at PAN.

Insecticide-coated corn and soybean seeds are marketed as a layer of protection against pests such as soybean aphids. Researchers say the benefits of the insecticide wear off within three weeks. Planter dust, which can contain high concentrations of neonicotinoids, is rubbed off the seeds by friction during transport and planting. The dust can then drift from fields to flowers and other vegetation, with the risk of harm to pollinators.

“While EPA fiddles, grave harm to bees and other pollinators continues,” said George Kimbrell, CFS legal director. “Nearly five years ago, we provided the EPA the legal blueprint to solve this problem and the legal impetus to do it, yet they have still sat on their hands.”

The CFS says the insecticide coating is taken up by the plant’s circulatory system as it grows, so plant tissue and pollen contain small amounts of it. The group estimates that pesticide-coated seeds are used on 150 million acres of farmland annually.

To read the 43-page lawsuit, click here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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