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California sued to treat pesticide-treated crop seeds like other pesticides

Environmentalists say only 2 to 3% of the pesticide coating treated seeds goes into the plant. The rest ends up in the soil and, eventually, waterways.

(CN) — Environmentalists and public health advocates sued the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to force the state to close a legal loophole that allows farmers to use crop seeds treated with pesticides without the strict rules that regulate the use of conventional pesticides.

Like other pesticides, treated seeds are used to prevent the crop from being damaged by disease or insect but have been coated with pesticide, either by spraying or dipping the seeds. 

Jonathan Evans, the environmental health legal director for plaintiff Center for Biological Diversity, said treated seeds are used in both tree and plant nursery crops and food crops, predominantly in corn and soy that are meant for both animal and human consumption.

Other plaintiffs include the Natural Resources Defense Council, Californians for Pesticide Reform, Friends of the Earth and Pesticide Action Network North America. 

Evans said farmers and agribusiness often plant treated seeds in the absence of a pest problem, as a prophylactic.    

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate the use of the treated seeds, leaving it to individual states to do so. 

Evans said that although California has one of the most thorough pesticide regulation laws in the country, with a robust research and reporting system that tracks and studies the effects of the more conventional pesticides, the treated seeds' effects on the environment and the health of wildlife and humans are not as well understood by regulators as they should be.

The groups want an Alameda County court judge to order the state to regulate these pesticide-treated seeds the same way it regulates and studies the effects of more conventional pesticides.

According to the lawsuit, one of the most common pesticides used in treated seeds are neonicotinoids, which have been linked to the deaths of bees and declines in bird populations, water contamination, and other ecological effects. Research also suggests prenatal exposure to neonicotinoids may increase the risk of malformations of the developing heart and brain of a child.

Only 2 to 3% of neonicotinoids used on treated seeds are actually taken up and absorbed by the plant that grows from the seed, the groups say in their lawsuit, while 90% of the pesticide is absorbed into the soil where it can stay for years as well as make its way into waterways. That affects not just insects and wildlife but people living nearby, the plaintiffs say.

“Communities on the front lines of industrial agriculture are highly impacted by pesticide exposure through contamination of their air, water and soil. It's alarming that the state would allow so much entirely unregulated and unreported use of pesticides that are known to pollute our water and harm our health,” Jane Sellen, co-director of the statewide coalition Californians for Pesticide Reform, said in a statement put out by the Center for Biological Diversity. “As usual, the impact of the state's failure to regulate is overwhelmingly suffered by residents of California’s low-income farmworking communities of color. It's time to close this massive loophole.”

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation declined to comment on pending litigation, pointing to a page on its website on pesticide-treated seeds that says: “To the extent that a seed is treated to protect the seed, the seed does not fall under the state definition of 'pesticide' and is excluded from review by DPR. Seed treatment products must be registered by U.S. EPA and DPR when the coating process is conducted in California. However, there is limited information on which commodities utilize treated seeds, which active ingredients are used for each commodity, and the extent to which treated seeds are used in California.”

Categories: Courts Government Health Regional

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