Neonicotinoid pesticides are systemic chemicals used on dozens of crops – but did you know their most damaging and common use is as “seed coatings?” During this process, neonic pesticides are applied to seeds prior to planting. After these seeds coated in pesticides are planted, the toxic chemicals are absorbed by the whole crop which makes the entire plant toxic to many insects, bees and birds. The neonics from these coated seeds can also contaminate the soil, wildflowers, and water.
Shockingly, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has never regulated these coated seeds as pesticides, and so there are no requirements for official investigations of the bee kills that clearly result from the seeds. That’s why Center for Food Safety (CFS) recently filed a legal petition with EPA demanding that the agency conduct environmental review of and regulate these dangerous seed coatings.
If bees go extinct, so will we. Honey bees are needed to pollinate more than one-third of our food, yet they are going extinct largely because of pesticides, parasites, and climate change. Their disastrous decline highlights that we are deeply connected and dependent on the natural world, and unless we dramatically change our ways, and the use of pesticides, our future is in peril too. Additionally, the neonics from these coated seeds are contaminating our waterways, and are so toxic to aquatic invertebrates, an important food source for many larger species, that some experts call it a second Silent Spring. And, a single corn kernel coated with neonicotinoids can kill a songbird, and even a tiny grain of wheat or canola coated in the oldest neonic – imidacloprid – can fatally poison a bird.
Neonicotinoid-coated seeds represent the largest use of these insecticides – nearly 150 million acres are planted with them, nearly half of all cropland in the U.S. Researchers estimate that up to 95% of all corn seed in the U.S. comes coated with a neonic, and a large portion of soybean, cotton, wheat, and canola seeds are also coated in these chemicals. And because the four largest agrochemical and seed companies control over 60% of the seed market, and have a vested interest in coupling seed sales with chemical sales, it’s harder and harder for farmers to avoid these pesticidal seeds.
Despite all these impacts, EPA does NOT regulate these toxic pesticidal seeds, creating a major loophole for this massive pesticide use. By only registering the liquid coating product applied to seeds indoors, EPA ignores the significant and deadly impacts of these seeds when they are planted out in the environment. CFS’s legal petition demands that EPA close this deadly loophole and properly evaluate and regulate coated seeds under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), including adequate assessment of the full environmental and agronomic harms from coated seeds.
Thank you for joining us in this important fight.
Amy van Saun, Staff Attorney
Center for Food Safety