Update 4:08 PM: Earlier today the House Farm Bill was defeated by a vote of 234 to 195. Many Democrats were moved to vote against the bill after several amendments were accepted yesterday that would make it more difficult for individuals to receive food stamp benefits. The House bill already included more than $20 billion dollars in cuts to food stamp programs over five years before the amendment process began. 62 Republicans also opposed the bill, arguing that bill did not go far enough in its cuts.
This failure of the Farm Bill is an opportunity for environmental organizations to push for stronger legislation. Beyond Pesticides found several sections of the latest House Farm Bill to be particularly alarming. Section 10013 of the Farm Bill, commonly referred to as the “Reducing Regulatory Burden Act of 2013,” would have eliminated the requirement for pesticide applicators to file Clean Water Act (CWA) permits for application where pesticides could be discharged into water. Section 10014 would have limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate the importation of genetically engineered pesticide incorporated seeds. Beyond Pesticides would also like to thank all those who stood with our organization and took action on these issues.
The failure of the House Farm Bill also will be an opportunity to strengthen organic agriculture. The failed House Farm Bill undercut several major organic programs. Amendments were filed to restore organic funding but none were allowed a vote on during the amendment process. The Senate Farm Bill, already passed, contains several provisions that strengthen organic agriculture and do not include the Clean Water Act permit repeal language, the limitation on EPA oversight of genetically engineered pesticide incorporated seeds, or another controversial amendment that would have reversed a decision by EPA to reduce fluoride intake through water, food, and toothpaste (as urged by the National Academy of Sciences) by banning sulfuryl fluoride’s use in agriculture (a study amendment on this issue was in the House Farm Bill that failed – Sec. 10016. Study on proposed order pertaining to sulfuryl fluoride, H.R. 1947, p534, line7).
(Beyond Pesticides, June 20, 2013) The U.S. House of Representatives last night during Pollinator Week passed an amendment to the House Farm Bill, which is now on the House floor for a vote, that requires more federal attention to the loss of honey bees and other pollinators. The amendment, Protection of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, creates a federal task force, requires research, and provides for an allowance for beekeepers to use federal forest lands. The amendment passed on a vote of 270-146 with 79 Republicans and 191 Democrats voting in favor. If a final House Farm Bill passes the House, it will head to a conference with the Senate, which earlier this month passed a Senate Farm Bill that does not contain a similar provision.
Other amendments to support organic agriculture that are part of the Senate Farm Bill were not given a floor vote by the House Rules Committee, which manages the amendments allowed to reach the House floor during the Farm Bill debate.
The pollinator vote, with bipartisan support, indicates increasing public awareness that honey bees and pollinators are in serious decline, requiring increased attention and action. Advocates would like more dramatic action than the Hastings amendment represents, including the end to EPA’s conditional registrations of pesticides unless pollinator studies first indicate that they are adequately protected, but see this effort as effecting more focused attention on the problem. The research linking pesticides to colony collapse disorder (CCD) and bee health decline has been growing in the last couple of years, with the European Union in April adopting a two-year moratorium on the use of the neonicotinoid insecticides clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid. The decision comes after the report by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), which concluded that the neonicotinoid pesticides posed a “high acute risk” to pollinators, including honey bees. The insecticides would now be restricted from use on crops which attractive to bees and on certain cereal grains. The moratorium will begin no later than December 1 this year.
The amendment to the Farm Bill requires USDA, Department of the Interior and EPA “to protect and ensure the long-term viability of populations of honey bees, wild bees, and other beneficial insects of agricultural crops, horticultural plants, wild, plants, and other plants. An overview of the environmental risks posed by neonicotinoid insecticides, by David Goulson, Ph.D, of the University of Sussex, UK, provides a detailed overview of the current literature on the economic and environmental risks of neonicotinoid pesticides. The literature concerning the danger that these systemic pesticides pose to pollinators is reviewed in detail in Dr. Goulson’s study. It is determined that there is strong evidence that the concentration of neonicotiniods found in agricultural fields have the potential to cause catastrophic sublethal impacts on colony level success for honey bees and bumblebees. An extensive overview of the major studies showing the effects of neonicotiniods on pollinator health can be found on Beyond Pesticides’ What the Science Shows webpage.
Amendment #129, Protection of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, authored by Alcee Hastings (D-FL), will help pollinators in several ways:
1. Requests the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to consult with the Department of the Interior (DOI), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect and ensure the long-term viability of pollinators.
2. Requests USDA to provide formal guidance on permitting managed honey bees to forage on National Forest Service lands, and planting and maintain managed honey bee and native pollinator forage on National Forest Service lands.
3. Requires a task force to coordinate and assess federal efforts to mitigate pollinator losses, and report to Congress federal efforts to reduce pollinator losses.
4. Supports collaboration honey bee research.
During pollinator week, this week and every week, Beyond Pesticides hopes you will consider doing what you can in your own backyard, neighborhood, and community to create a safe space for these imperiled species. For the latest information on pollinator week events and the steps you can take to BEE Protective of pollinators see Beyond Pesticides’ BEE Protective webpage. Thanks to all those who participate in the campaign to save pollinators.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.