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EPA Rule on Treated Seeds Challenged, Activists Tell Lowe’s to Stop Selling Neonics

(Beyond Pesticides, June 3, 2014) In a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) challenged EPA’s position that seeds coated with pesticides, commonly neonicotinoid pesticides, are exempt from regulation under the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). EPA currently is arguing that pesticide-coated seeds are treated articles, exempting them from being regulated as a pesticide and should be regulated by USDA under the Federal Seed Act.  However, CFS argues in its letter that FIFRA precludes EPA from approving language at any stage of the pesticide’s supply chain that allows for exposures likely to adversely affect the environment, and which are not mitigated or investigated by EPA or state agencies.

Neonicotinod seed treatments have become increasing common and are linked to the explosion of genetically engineered (GE) crops. At least 94% of the nation’s 92 million acres of corn –greater than the total size of the state of Minnesota, Nebraska, or both Dakotas– will be treated with one of two neonicotinoids, both manufactured by Bayer.

According the letter, CFS believes this inaction by EPA has led state regulators to avoid investigating bee deaths from exposure to dust from planting seeds treated with the controversial neonicotinoid insecticides. CFS says that language added to treated seed bags could reduce or mitigate the impact that pesticidal ‘dust has on pollinators.

Currently, when farmers plant pesticide treated seeds using a mechanical seeder, small amounts of the chemical coating can be scraped off of the seeds and expelled through the planter’s exhaust as dust. Bees that are near the area or are flying through then come into direct physical contact with the chemical dust. A 2012 study found that high amounts of neonicotinoids are present in the exhaust of corn seed planters and that bees are exposed to these potentially lethal concentrations of the chemical simply by flying through the area during planting.

Last summer, EPA amended label requirements for foliar applications of neonicotinoids after the controversial class of pesticides were suspected in bee kills following pesticide sprays at several sites in Oregon. Critics have questioned the efficacy of these restrictions as they do not address the systemic nature of neonicotinoids and focuses solely on managed and not wild bees. The new regulations also clearly do not affect treated seeds.

According to an Inside EPA article, state and federal officials as well as industry representatives have been working to revise treated seed labels for several years. However, CFS argues that industry’s clear influence in changing seed bag labels violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) which requires public notification of, and balanced representation on, advisory panels.

The science clearly indicates that neonicotinoids are highly toxic to a range of insects, including honey bees and other pollinators. The systemic insecticides are taken up by a plant’s vascular system and expressed through pollen, nectar and gutation droplets that bees forage, pollinate, or rink. They are particularly dangerous because, in addition to being acutely toxic in high doses, they also result in serious sublethal effects when insects are exposed to chronic low doses, as they are through pollen and water droplets laced with the chemical as well as dust that is released into the air when treated seeds that have been coated with the chemicals are planted.

Recently, research on neonicotinoids conducted by Chensheng (Alex) Lu and colleagues at the Department of Environmental Health at the Harvard School of Public Health has been the subject of criticism because of the dose levels used in the study. However, the concentration used by Lu and colleagues (136 µg/L of imidacloprid) is comparable to the maximum sample value seen by Bayer in their joint citrus study with the University of California (Byrne et al. 2013) in freshly capped honey (95.2 µg/L). A blog post from the Pesticide Research Institute  concludes that Bayer’s claims that this new research is “deceptive and represents a disservice to genuine scientific investigation related to honey bee health” lacks credibility.

Concerns over massive wild bee die offs and consistently high losses reported from managed hives led to public demands for stronger pollinator protections. Last Friday, beekeepers and advocates like NC Toxic Free protested Lowe’s annual shareholder meeting. Protesters demanded the home improvement store stop selling neonicotinoid pesticides. These actions were part of a larger campaign supported by Beyond Pesticides to pressure retailers to stop selling these chemicals and treated garden plants.

You Can Also Take Action: Join Beyond Pesticides BEE Protective campaign:

Source: Inside EPA

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.


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