Farmer pouring corn treated with pesticides into planter hopper Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Farmer empties treated corn seed into a planter.

Court rules for EPA in seed treatment pesticide case

Federal court rules seed treated with pesticides do not have to be regulated as pesticides in Anderson vs. EPA case brought by farmers, activists and beekeeper organizations.

A federal court in California has ruled EPA does not have to regulate seed treated with pesticides as if the seed were pesticides themselves, a situation that would have been costly and a duplication of EPA’s current pesticide regulatory practices, experts say.

The ruling in Anderson vs. the EPA, a case brought by a group of farmers, environmental activists and beekeepers, is being seen as a victory for preserving the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act as the primary mechanism for pesticide regulation in the U.S.

An industry coalition, including CropLife America, the American Seed Trade Association, Agricultural Retailers Association, National Cotton Council of America, American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers and the National Corn Growers Association had filed as intervenors on behalf of EPA.

“CropLife America applauds the court for reinforcing the importance of decisions built on the foundation of established science-based reviews of crop protection products,” said Jay Vroom, president and CEO of CLA, the organization representing pesticide manufacturers and distributors.

The court found the 2013 Bee Guidance document on which plaintiffs had relied was neither an “agency action” nor “final” under the Administrative Procedures Act and plaintiffs’ claims were not reviewable by a court. The court also denied plaintiffs’ request to seek additional documents and information from EPA to support their claims.

Neonicotinoids targeted

The original filing sought to force EPA to regulate seeds treated with neonicotinoids as pesticides under FIFRA.

The American Soybean Association said in a press release last spring that it was joining the coalition to help defend EPA’s current regulation of neonicotinoid seed treatments and “to ensure the court and EPA understand the importance of treated seeds to American agriculture.”

Vroom said the decision protects the ability of growers to continue using seed treatment technology “that is vital to American agriculture, permits EPA to retain its current regulatory approach for treated seeds and allows EPA and the agricultural value chain to continue their important work on pollinator health issues.”

Environmental activists and some beekeepers groups have been attacking neonicotinoid seed treatments as a primary cause of declines in bee populations with little scientific evidence to support their claims.

Pollinator health

Farm organizations and industry groups such as CropLife America agree that pesticides must be used carefully, but that bee populations can be safeguarded when proper precautions are taken by pesticide applicators. One of the main needs, they say, is to improve communications between beekeepers and farmers who allow them to place their hives on their land.

“Our members depend on the consistency of the regulatory process to ensure they are able to get new and more advanced products to market, while ensuring these products have been thoroughly tested for environmental and human health safety,” said Vroom.

"Plaintiffs had asked the court to order EPA to regulate seeds treated with pesticides as if the seeds were the pesticides themselves," a National Cotton Council spokesman said. "Currently, the pesticides applied to articles, in this case, seeds, already are registered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. Therefore the articles themselves do not need to be regulated after the pesticide is applied to them.

"In essence, the plaintiffs were asking EPA to regulate the same pesticide twice. This could have resulted in treated seeds being regulated as a pesticide and given planting control over to EPA under FIFRA."

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