EPA Rejects 2017 Treated-Seed Petition

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- The EPA on Wednesday rejected a 2017 petition to regulate treated seed, telling environmental groups the agency already "fully assesses" pesticides registered for treating seed, including effects on human health and the environment.

At the beginning of September, the U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California in San Francisco approved a consent decree between the EPA and the Center for Food Safety and the Pesticide Action Network North America.

The court gave the agency until the end of the month to act on the petition.

Though the EPA rejected the petition, the agency also announced on Wednesday plans to issue an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking to "seek additional information on whether or to what extent pesticide-treated seed is being distributed, sold, or used in a manner inconsistent with treating pesticide labeling."

EPA said in a news release it has concerns about whether current labels for treated seeds are adequate.

"EPA agrees with the petitioners' concerns on clearly communicating the labeling instructions to the users of the treating pesticide and the treated seed," the agency said in a news release.

"The agency has been reviewing labeling instructions for pesticides registered for seed treatment use(s) in registration and registration review to ensure there are complete and appropriate instructions for the distribution, sale, and use of both the treating pesticide and the treated seed."

In their petition, the environmental groups argued the EPA has not fully assessed the risks from use of seed treatment pesticides.

EPA said in its response that current assessments account for the "fate and effect of the pesticide, including the uptake and distribution into the developing seedling and plant and the availability of the pesticide on the treated seed to all taxa."

Pesticide-treated seed is used widely across the country. For years, treated seeds were exempted from regulation as a pesticide as part of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, or FIFRA. The environmental groups sued in December 2021 because the agency has not responded to a 2017 petition to regulate treated seed.

As a result of the petition denial, EPA has the opportunity to make a court motion to have the consent decree terminated. The environmental groups would then have 14 days to respond to such a motion.

Concerns about pesticide-treated seed took center stage in an environmental disaster at a now-shuttered closed-loop ethanol plant in Mead, Nebraska.

In their lawsuit, the environmental groups talked about the ill effects of the accumulation of tens of thousands of tons of treated seed at the plant. The plant used pesticide-treated seed to produce ethanol and stored distillers grains on the property. That led to the contamination of ground and surface water and continues to be in environmental remediation with more than 84,000 tons of toxic distilled grain piled on the site.

DTN reported last year that treated seeds are now planted on an estimated 180 million acres.

In late 2018 and early 2019, EPA asked for public comments on the environmental groups' petition and received 16,343 total comments. EPA never responded to the 2017 petition.

Industry groups, including the American Seed Trade Association, Crop Life America and other grower groups, said in comments to EPA in 2018 that pesticides applied as seed treatments are "subject to rigorous, scientifically robust review by EPA" and that requirements for treated seeds would "unnecessarily duplicate" existing EPA regulation.

The environmental groups said in the lawsuit that EPA never did draft a rule after the agency's decision to exempt pesticide-treated seeds from FIFRA.

Read more on DTN:

"Court Approves Decree on Treated Seed," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"Treated Seed Troubles," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"EPA Sued Over Seed Treatments," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @DTNeeley

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