Advocates Demand Regulation of Toxic Neonic-Treated Seeds

California Agency Failed to Regulate Widespread Use and Prevent Ecological Harm

SACRAMENTO (September 23, 2020) - A group of health and environmental organizations filed a legal petition today, calling upon the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to regulate the planting of crop seeds coated with neurotoxic neonicotinoid insecticides (neonics) and close a loophole that allows the unchecked use of neonic-treated seeds in California’s farms. The petition follows a scientific report released today finding these seeds may result in the use of over half a million pounds of unregulated pesticides per year in the state. 

The report finds neonic-treated seeds may be the single largest use of neonics in California. It also identifies these seeds as a likely major contributor to the widespread, documented contamination of state waters and a substantial risk to pollinators and other wildlife. 

Following are statements from coalition partners:

“This is an inexcusable regulatory failure,” said Dan Raichel, Attorney on the Pollinator Initiative at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “Neonic insecticides contaminate state soil and water at levels that threaten California’s ecosystems and may threaten the health of its residents. Yet, the state’s pesticide agency maintains it is powerless to regulate their use. California law requires that state officials take action, so we’re legally petitioning the agency to do just that.”

“California needs to stop pretending that seeds treated with bee-killing neonic pesticides are safe,” said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Until state officials start doing realistic assessments of neonic-treated seeds and put reasonable protections in place, these dangerous pesticides will continue to harm and kill pollinators that are key to the health of California’s environment.” 

"Insecticide seed treatments are used on crops everywhere, yet their impacts on our ecosystems and wildlife have gone unchecked," said Sarah Hoyle, Pesticide Program Specialist at the Xerces Society. "Seed treatment use should be tracked and reported. California can lead the nation by regulating insecticide-treated seed."

“Research shows that use of neonic-coated seeds had dramatically increased the toxic burden of U.S. agriculture for pollinators and other insects,” said Kendra Klein, PhD, senior staff scientist at Friends of the Earth. “It is imperative that California does all it can to protect the pollinators that our food system depends on. Closing the loophole on regulating neonic-coated seeds is a critical first step.”


Neonics are the most widely-used insecticides in the world and can be found in bug sprays, home and garden products, and food grown in farm fields across the country. Neonics kill insects by attacking their nerve cells, causing uncontrollable shaking or twitching, paralysis, and eventually death. 

As “systemic” pesticides, neonics readily dissolve in water and can be absorbed by the target plant, making the plant itself—including its nectar, pollen, and fruit—toxic. Neonics are often applied as a coating on a plant’s seed, which is absorbed through the plant’s roots as it grows. Neonics can persist for years and be carried by rain and irrigation water to contaminate new soil, water, and plants. Neonics’ high toxicity to insects and other invertebrates makes this widespread contamination a major problem for the nation’s pollinators, which have been dying en masse, threatening the nation’s food security, agricultural economy, and environment. Neonic contamination has also been linked to dramatic losses of birds and fish, and birth defects in deer. 

Health professionals are also increasingly concerned about the potential effects of neonics on people. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research indicates roughly half of the U.S. general population is exposed to neonics on a regular basis. Contaminated food and water are likely the most common exposure sources. Fruits, vegetables, and processed foods—including baby food—frequently contain neonics too and cannot be washed off. 

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges neonic-treated seeds constitute “pesticides” under federal law, it has long exempted them from regulation, despite exponential increases in their use and growing evidence of their harms and lack of efficacy. In the face of nationwide inaction on treated seeds, DPR would become the first agency in the U.S. to regulate their use if it did.

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), Californians for Pesticide Reform, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Pesticide Action Network of North America, and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation filed the petition.

The petition precedes an October comment submission deadline for DPR’s proposed pollinator protection mitigation measures for the use of neonics in agricultural crops. 

More information on neonics: 

California Isn’t Powerless on Toxic Neonic-Coated Seeds
DPR Proposed Regulations on Neonics
10 Things You Always Wanted to Know About Neonics  
 NRDC Sets the Stage for Battle Over Neonics
 EPA Finds Neonics are Risky Business – But Plans to Approve Anyway  


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Bozeman, Montana; and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.


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