After a failed attempt at a ban, Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan of Orinda is once again pushing to restrict the use of crop seeds treated with neonicotinoids and other pesticides. Her Assembly Bill 1042 would add a new labeling requirement for the products and is running into headwinds with the industry.

“This bill does not ban the use of anything. It merely gives consumers the information they need to make informed decisions,” said Bauer-Kahan, during a policy committee hearing on AB 1042. “On other pesticides, we have very clear disclosure, this very clear understanding of what's happening, and seeds have been this gaping hole in that understanding.”

The Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) requires labels to identify the treatments used, but not the concentration amount, according to the Bay Area progressive, who claimed that farmers are increasingly reliant on treated seeds. She argued that 95% of the active ingredients in the treatments stay in the soil, contaminating the water supply and food sources and contributing to declining bee and bird populations.

Bauer-Kahan framed the proposal as empowering farmers to make more informed choices about their pest management practices.

Bauer Kahan in hearingAsm. Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, D-Orinda

“We've seen just over the last 25 years a growing toxicity of our farmlands,” said Laura Deehan, who directs the advocacy group Environment California, one of three sponsors on the bill. “And of course, all of that toxicity also affects human health.”

Advocates have targeted treated seeds, particularly with neonicotinoids, for several years. In 2017 an environmental coalition petitioned the U.S. EPA to regulate treated seeds. Frustrated at the slow response, the coalition followed up with a lawsuit in 2021, arguing the agency was ignoring the petition. EPA rejected the petition the following year but pledged to examine the issue in more detail.

DPR denied a similar petition in 2020, citing insufficient data. Months later Bauer-Kahan filed legislation to ban neonic-treated seeds, pulling the bill later amid a shortened session due to the pandemic. DPR held an informational hearing the same year to further examine the existing research, which primarily focused on Midwest row crops. In 2022 the Natural Resources Defense Council followed up with a lawsuit claiming DPR must regulate neonic-treated seeds.

                   It's easy to be "in the know" about agriculture news from coast to coast! Sign up for a FREE month of Agri-Pulse news. Simply click here.

Last year Bauer-Kahan returned to her effort to regulate treated seeds with AB 1042, following the lead of New York, which became the first state to ban the use of neonic-treated seeds last December.

Despite Bauer-Kahan’s assertions, a coalition of nearly two dozen farm groups viewed the bill as a ban, since the legislation would have prohibited the sale, delivery or use for treated seeds not registered with DPR for that use. No treated seeds would have been available for several years while DPR performed an extensive regulatory review across multiple products, according to an opposition letter.

The treatment protects plants from pests, disease and fungi in infancy, the most vulnerable stage, providing “the best chance to develop into healthy, high-quality plants,” according to the bill’s opponents. It maximizes the harvest potential and reduces the amount of foliar application later in the lifecycle.

Dennis Albiani, a lobbyist for the California Seed Association and other entities, argued during a policy hearing that the seeds also minimize the number of passes by tractors and the amount of labor needed, reducing the carbon footprint as well as the potential for human exposure to pesticides. He rejected Bauer-Kahan’s claim that treated seeds are “an incredibly huge” loophole in California regulations.

A fiscal analysis found the initial incarnation of AB 1042 could have resulted in increased costs for subsequent regulations and to county agricultural commissioners for the additional local enforcement. Opponents charged it would have added a significant expense to commissioners as well as DPR, which has long struggled with a structurally imbalanced budget. The bill later stalled in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

After Bauer-Kahan revived the measure earlier this month and amended it to a labeling requirement, Albiani dove headlong into the science and consulted with CDFA officials on the current regulations. At a hearing last week, he warned the bill would extend beyond pesticides to impact fertilizers and other products, though the intent is to prevent the industry from accidentally feeding treated corn seeds to cattle or treated pumpkin seeds to people.

The agricultural coalition Albiani represents has proposed amendments to narrow the scope to pesticides and to add labels for pesticide products shipped to other states or countries. Bauer-Kahan pushed back, arguing the changes would restrict the bill’s effort to improve transparency. 

The Senate Agriculture Committee approved the measure, advancing it to another policy committee for ahearing next week.

For more news, go to