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Environmental Protection Agency Denies Petition to Regulate Neonic-Treated Seeds

A streaked bird in grass feeds its young.
Grassland birds like Bobolinks have experienced sharp declines. Photo by Jackie Elmore/Macaulay Library.

From the Winter 2023 issue of Living Bird magazine. Subscribe now.

In September the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency denied a petition seeking to remove pesticide-coated seeds from the agency’s “treated article exemption.” The exemption means pes­ticide-coated seeds are not regulated as a pesticide by the EPA.

A coalition led by the Center for Food Safety—and including American Bird Conservancy, Pesticide Action Network, and other beekeeping and pollinator groups—filed the petition asking EPA to end a regulatory loop­hole for seeds treated with a coating of systemic pesticides (such as neonicoti­noids). The petition asked the agency to monitor and regulate pesticide-coated seeds just as it would pesticides applied on plants or in fields.

Learn more about how neonictinoid use affects pollinators. Video from Beyond Pesticides a nonprofit organization that is not affiliated with teh Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

A response to the petition from Edward Messina, EPA Office of Pesti­cide Programs director, stated that EPA will “review labeling instructions for pesticides registered for seed treatment use(s)” and “seek additional information on pesticide seed treatment,” as well as explore the future option of regulating the use of pesticide-treated seed. Other than that, Messina wrote that EPA will not change its current practice.  

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Seed coatings are the primary way neonicotinoid pesticides are used in farm fields. Neonics have been docu­mented to have direct effects on birds, such as interfering with metabolism, migration, and reproduction, as well as indirect effects, such as depressing insect prey populations. A study con­ducted by scientists from the Univer­sity of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Auburn University found evidence of accelerated declines of grassland birds in counties with high neonicotinoid use (see “Neonic Nation: Is Widespread Pesticide Use Connected To Grassland Bird Declines? Summer 2022).

“The EPA’s decision today to deny the petition request to exclude pes­ticide-coated seeds from the treated article exemption represents a blow to grassland and insect-eating birds,” said Hardy Kern, director of the Ameri­can Bird Conservancy Pesticides and Birds Campaign. “The U.S. and Canada have nearly 3 billion fewer birds than in 1970, in part due to pesticide-caused prey loss and poisoning. This is a lost opportunity to mitigate these threats.”  

An EPA spokesperson contacted for this story said the agency had no further comment about its decision.

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library

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