EPA has decided against regulating the use of pesticide-treated seeds under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, but the agency is looking into whether the seeds are being sold and used in ways that violate existing restrictions. 

EPA said Wednesday that it already assesses “the use of the treating pesticide and the treated seed and impacts to human health and the environment.”

But the agency said it was evaluating label requirements for pesticides “to ensure there are complete and appropriate instructions for the distribution, sale, and use of both the treating pesticide and the treated seed.”

The agency also will be investigating whether treated seeds are being distributed or used in ways that violate the pesticide labeling requirements. The agency said it would issue an advance notice of proposed rulemaking, seeking additional information on that issue.

The agency said it would consider whether a new rule is needed to “regulate pesticide-treated seed to ensure distribution, sale and use of the treated seed is consistent with treating pesticide and treated seed labeling.”

The agency was responding to a petition filed by the Center for Food Safety that said EPA was not adequately regulating seeds treated with neonicotinoids, which are used widely with corn and soybeans.

The group says EPA should have assessed the environmental risks of the treated seeds and required them to be registered under the pesticide law and sold with labels that carry enforceable requirements.

EPA has not regulated pesticide-coated seeds under FIFRA because of an exemption in the law for “treated articles.”

The agency said Wednesday that the pesticide assessments it already does “take into account the fate and effect of the pesticide, including the uptake and distribution into the developing seedling and plant and availability of the pesticide on the treated seed to all taxa.”

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EPA agreed in a consent decree to issue a decision on the issue by this Friday.

The Center for Food Safety blasted EPA for refusing to regulate the seeds under FIFRA. 

“We gave EPA a golden chance and a blueprint to fix a problem that has caused significant harm to people, bees, birds, and the environment — and it stubbornly refused,” said Amy van Saun, senior attorney with the advocacy group. “It’s extremely disappointing and we’ll be exploring all possible next steps to protect communities and the environment from the hazard of pesticide-coated seeds, including a lawsuit challenging this decision.”

The American Seed Trade Association said the EPA reaffirms its "longstanding, rigorous regulatory process for seed treatments. Application of the treated article exemption to seed has been challenged, undergone a thorough review by EPA, and has ultimately been upheld."

The American Soybean Association also welcomed the decision. “Seed treatments are well documented to allow farmers like me to better protect our crops, use fewer pesticides, and reduce environmental exposure risks,” said Alan Meadows, a Halls, Tennessee, farmer who chairs the group’s regulatory committee.