Two non-profits are suing the EPA for failing to protect consumers from neonicotinoids, an agricultural pesticide used to coat crop seeds and bypass regulation. The chemical was first popularized in the 1990s and has become a staple of commercial farming in the US and worldwide.

What Are Neonicotinoids?

Also known as pesticide-coated seeds or coated cover crop seeds, neonicotinoids are a sprayable insecticide applied to crop seeds during processing. Over the past four decades, neonicotinoids have been the most commonly used insecticides in the world. Commercial agricultural uses more than 8 billion pounds of the stuff to coat seeds annually. At least 90% of all US corn comes from coated cover crop seeds, and roughly half of all planted cropland is exposed to the chemical.

How Do Neonicotinoids Work?

The compound targets the central nervous systems of insects. The chemical impacts more than just crop-ruining pests – they’ve been linked to killing bee colonies, birds, butterflies and some mammals as well.

What’s At Stake?

Neonicotinoids are not banned in the US; they’re not even regulated. The EPA is empowered to regulate sprayable pesticides, not chemicals applied to seeds during processing. It’s a loophole that enables agrochemical manufacturers to utilize the chemical on a massive scale.

Because the chemical isn’t regulated, manufacturers aren’t required to publish data on the environmental or health impacts of the compound. Instead, the EPA requires only active ingredients to be included on the label without any further research or accountability.

That’s despite the EPA’s own findings that neonicotinoids have been shown to have a “likely adverse effect” on more than a thousand endangered species.

Do Neonicotinoids Cause Cancer?

There is a growing body of evidence that links neonicotinoids with cancer. It may induce breast cancer cell development and migration in humans, while several animal studies have shown it to promote tumor growth in a lab environment.

More studies – and regulations – are needed to keep consumers safe.

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