Legal challenge calls on state Department of Pesticide Regulation to close loophole on unregulated sale, use of pesticides on seeds

SACRAMENTO (February 21, 2023) – Environmental and public health groups filed a legal challenge, seeking to close the California Department of Pesticide Regulation’s (DPR) loophole allowing crop seeds treated with pesticides (“treated seeds”) to avoid regulation as “pesticides.”

Nationwide, treated seeds are a major source of pesticide contamination of soil, water, and ecosystems. This includes contamination from neonicotinoid insecticides, or “neonics,” which are applied to crop seeds covering hundreds of millions of acres across the country and have been identified as a leading cause of bee and broader insect declines. Since California does not regulate treated seeds, the state does not have information about what or how much pesticide is coming into the state on seeds.

“The failure to regulate treated seeds creates a gigantic regulatory blind-spot—allowing one of the largest and most widespread uses of pesticides to go almost completely untracked and unregulated,” said Daniel Raichel, Acting Director of the Pollinator Initiative at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).

NRDC, Californians for Pesticide Reform, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and Pesticide Action Network North America, filed the legal challenge against the department in Alameda County Superior Court. This action follows a previous petition filed in 2020, which prompted the lawsuit.

“DPR’s failure to track or regulate these toxic seeds is unlawful and turns a blind eye to the crucial role seeds play as the root of all life. These chemical-laden time bombs can harm countless California species, farmers, and farmworkers,” said Hallie Templeton, Legal Director for Friends of the Earth. “Today’s lawsuit aims to force overdue, necessary action to help protect people and the planet.”

Widespread use of pesticides is a major driver of the mounting biodiversity crisis. In recent decades, advancements in pesticide application technology have made their use—and harm—more ubiquitous than ever. One such advance is the development of “systemic” insecticides: long-lasting and highly water-soluble chemicals absorbed by treated plants and transported throughout, making all parts of the plant—the roots, leaves, stems, and pollen—toxic to insects. These chemicals are uniquely effective at moving through land and water, leading to widespread environmental contamination that threatens wildlife and human health.

“California regulators must close the loophole allowing uncontrolled use of pesticide treated seeds that are helping to fuel the insect apocalypse,” said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Communities on the frontlines of industrial agriculture are highly impacted by pesticide exposure through contamination of their air, water and soil. It’s alarming that the state would allow so much entirely unregulated and unreported use of pesticides that are known to pollute our water and harm our health,” said Jane Sellen, co-director of the statewide coalition Californians for Pesticide Reform. “As usual, the impact of the state’s failure to regulate is overwhelmingly suffered by residents of California’s low-income farmworking communities of color. It’s time to close this massive loophole.”

The Department of Pesticide Regulation is expected to respond to this legal action with its own court filing.



Media Contacts:
Kari Birdseye, NRDC, (415)350-7562,
Brittany Miller, FOE, (202) 222-0746,
Jonathan Evans, Center for Biological Diversity, (213) 598-1466,

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