Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, February 22, 2023

Contact:

Kari Birdseye, NRDC, (415) 350-7562, kbirdseye@nrdc.org
Brittany Miller, FOE, (202) 222-0746, bmiller@foe.org
Jonathan Evans, Center for Biological Diversity, (213) 598-1466, jevans@biologicaldiversity.org

Lawsuit Filed to Require California to Close Loophole, Regulate Pesticide-Treated Seeds

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— Environmental and public health groups have filed a legal challenge seeking to close the California Department of Pesticide Regulation’s loophole allowing crop seeds treated with pesticides to avoid regulation as pesticides.

Nationwide, treated seeds are a major source of pesticide contamination of soil, water and ecosystems. This includes contamination from neonicotinoid insecticides, which are applied to crop seeds covering hundreds of millions of acres across the country and have been identified as a leading cause of bee and broader insect declines.

Since California does not regulate treated seeds, the state does not have information about the types or amounts of pesticides coming into the state on seeds.

“The failure to regulate treated seeds creates a gigantic regulatory blind-spot — allowing one of the largest and most widespread uses of pesticides to go almost completely untracked and unregulated,” said Daniel Raichel, acting director of the Pollinator Initiative at Natural Resources Defense Council.

NRDC, Californians for Pesticide Reform, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth and Pesticide Action Network North America filed the legal challenge on Friday against the department in Alameda County Superior Court. This action follows a previous petition filed in 2020, which prompted the lawsuit.

“California regulators must close the loophole allowing uncontrolled use of pesticide treated seeds that are helping to fuel the insect apocalypse,” said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Widespread use of pesticides is a major driver of the mounting biodiversity crisis. In recent decades advancements in pesticide-application technology have made their use, and harm, more ubiquitous than ever. One such change is the development of systemic insecticides. The long-lasting and highly water-soluble chemicals in those insecticides are absorbed by treated plants and transported throughout, making all parts of the plant — the roots, leaves, stems and pollen — toxic to insects. These chemicals are uniquely effective at moving through land and water, leading to widespread environmental contamination that threatens wildlife and human health.

“DPR’s failure to track or regulate these toxic seeds is unlawful and turns a blind eye to the crucial role seeds play as the root of all life. These chemical-laden time bombs can harm countless California species, farmers and farmworkers,” said Hallie Templeton, legal director for Friends of the Earth. “Today’s lawsuit aims to force overdue, necessary action to help protect people and the planet.”

“Communities on the frontlines 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,” said Jane Sellen, co-director of the statewide coalition Californians for Pesticide Reform. “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 Department of Pesticide Regulation is expected to respond to this legal action with its own court filing.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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