EPA sued over handling of pesticide-coated seeds
The Center for Food Safety and the Pesticide Action Network of North America have sued the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to regulate pesticide-coated seeds, which they say are harmful to bees and other pollinators. These seeds are coated with systemic insecticides known as neonicotinoids, the most commonly used insecticides, and the organizations claim they cause devastating environmental effects.
"Almost five years ago, we gave the EPA the legal blueprint to solve this problem and the legal impetus to do it, but they still sat on their hands," says George Kimbrell, CFS legal director and counsel on the case. "While the EPA is fiddling, bees and other pollinators continue to suffer serious damage. That delay must end."
Crops grown from coated seeds, such as corn, soybeans and sunflower seeds, cover more than 150 million acres of farmland in the U.S. each year. Neonicotinoids are absorbed into the plant's bloodstream as it grows and penetrate leaves, pollen, nectar and other plant tissues. Neonicotinoids affect the central nervous system of insects, causing paralysis and death. Sublethal effects include impaired navigation and learning ability. The organizations claim that beneficial insects, valuable pollinators and birds - including threatened and endangered species protected by the Endangered Species Act - are killed or injured as a result.
Over the past decade, the increasing use of seeds coated with neonicotinoid insecticides has coincided with mass mortality of honey bees and wild native bees, the petition states. "If not addressed, these losses could lead to economic and environmental disaster for the petitioners and the United States as a whole at a time when the nation cannot afford it," the 2017 petition states.
Honey bees not only produce nutritious honey, but as pollinators, they are of enormous economic importance to American agriculture. "Approximately ninety percent of all flowering plants require pollinators to reproduce, and nearly one-third of pollination in U.S. agriculture is carried out by bees. Pollination by honey bees yields tens of billions of dollars in crop value each year. Healthy populations of all pollinators are essential to the future of American agriculture," the petition continues.
"Science has shown that coating seeds with pesticides is not only ineffective, but can cause real harm to pollinators, workers and farmers," said PAN senior scientist Margaret Reeves, a plaintiff in the case. "The vast majority of acreage in crops such as corn, soybeans and cotton is planted with pesticide-treated seeds, yet farmers know less about pesticides applied to their seeds than pesticides applied in other ways. The EPA needs to regulate this use and reduce this danger."
The 2017 petition asked the EPA to close a regulatory loophole that allows seeds coated with systemic pesticides (coated seeds) to escape the registration and labeling requirements of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. The EPA currently exempts coated seeds from FIFRA registration requirements and has failed to assess the risks of these unregulated seeds, while never providing the public with any justification for this exemption, they claim.
The CFS, through its Pollinators & Pesticides program, has long advocated for thorough, science-based safety testing and proper regulation of new pesticide uses before crops are marketed and grown in ways that minimize lethal and sublethal effects on non-target species. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Pesticide Action Network of North America and Center for Food Safety, represented by counsel from Center for Food Safety.
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