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Seed Controversy Continues

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CropLife AmericaAmerican Seed Trade AssociationAmerican Soybean AssociationNational Association of Wheat GrowersNational Corn GrowersAgricultural Retailers Association, among others, are standing up to help American farmers use treated seeds and seed treatments.

A coalition of petitioners including non-government organizations, beekeepers and farmers are claiming seeds coated with neonicotinoid pesticides are not eligible for the treated seed exemption created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Petitioners are arguing that each coated seed is a separate unregistered pesticide that has not been properly evaluated and approved by EPA. They also argue that pesticide loss from these coated seeds creates environmental harm which EPA has not properly considered.

The Petitioners want a U.S. District Court in San Francisco to stop EPA from allowing any new unregistered seeds to be coated with systemic insecticides which have pesticidal effects extending beyond the seed.

Farm organizations listed above have organized and filed the appropriate paperwork to participate (Interveners) in the EPA case and support farmers. CropLife and others claim nonprofit groups and other petitioners are seeking to upend EPA’s process for regulating seed treatments. If Petitioners win, EPA would be forced to stop the sale, distribution, and use of new seeds treated with systemic insecticides. The farm organizations claim “In addition to causing significant economic hardship to members of all Proposed Interveners, Plaintiffs’ requested relief would also impose new, unnecessary regulatory burdens on those members who produce, sell, and grow crops from seed.”

Interveners tell the Court they must be part of this lawsuit because seed treatments do involve the direct application of a pesticide to the surface of a seed and that such treatment provides protection to the seed during its most valuable developmental stage.

The farm interveners tell the Court that “Seed treatment insecticides and fungicides were introduced decades ago to address seed-borne pathogens inside or accompanying the seed; soil-borne pathogens that survive in soil or crop residue; and insects that feed on seeds and seedlings.” The interveners describe how successful seed treatments have been in eradicating pests and protecting seeds at their most vulnerable stage of development.

Farm interveners advise that such seed treatment helps reduce the amounts of broadcast sprays needed to protect a crop. The farm groups argue they should be allowed to intervene as a matter of right in this case.

There are several thresholds the farm groups must meet, and let us hope that a U.S. District Court in San Francisco agrees that farm groups can intervene in a timely matter.

CropLife advises the Court its members have invested enormous sums of money to obtain and maintain registrations for the seed treatments that Plaintiffs are attempting to stop.

Powerful argument

The American Seed Trade Association makes a powerful argument when it tells the Court “…if treated seed were to be regulated as pesticides, ASTA members in the business of applying seed treatments may be required to register their seed production facilities as pesticide manufacturing facilities with EPA…”.

Farmer affidavits tell the Court that without necessary seed treatment, growers will be unable to protect seeds from early-season insects, pests, and diseases.

The Agricultural Retailers Association advises the Court that ARA members will be barred from selling treated seed until EPA completed all of its studies and therefore would cost ARA members enormous sums of money.

The farm organizations make it clear in the court filing that EPA cannot and probably will not represent the interest of their organizations and their members. They also say “EPA does not share Proposed Interveners’ interest in protecting the commercial value of seed treatment registrations, developing and selling treated seed, and using those seeds for producing valuable crops.” (This statement cannot be argued with.)

EPA filed on March 10, 2016, a Motion to Dismiss the seed treatment case claiming that the nongovernmental organizations, beekeepers and farmers cannot bring their case because these groups are seeking a review of a guidance document which does not constitute final agency action.

I suspect the Court will not find EPA’s arguments compelling so intervention by CropLife and other farm organizations representing your interests is critical for agriculture.

(This column first ran in Farm Futures on April 4, 2016)

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