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Daily News Blog

30
Aug

Minnesota Governor Issues Executive Order Protecting Pollinators from Pesticides

(Beyond Pesticides, August 30, 2016) Last week, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton issued an executive order aimed at reversing pollinator decline in the state by limiting the use of toxic, systemic neonicotinoid (neonics) pesticides. The order tasks state agencies with a range of pollinator protective activities, and follows the completion of a Special Registration Review of Neonicotinoid Pesticides conducted by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Given that a change in administration could lead to a rescinding of an executive order, it is critical that advocates continue to pressure for concrete legislative changes that institutionalize bee protective practices.

“Bees and othFesoj_-_Papilio_machaon_(by)er pollinators play a critical role in supporting both our environment, and our economy,” said Governor Dayton. “This order directs state government to take immediate action to alleviate the known  risks that pollinators face. It also will create a new task force to study the issues impacting pollinators and recommend long-term solutions.”

The executive order directs the Department of Agriculture to immediately initiate steps requiring neonics only be applied when there is “an imminent threat of significant crop loss.” This move applies  to sprays, drenches, or granular applications of neonics, however, and not seed coatings, which will require separate legislative action to restrict. Under a loophole in federal pesticide law, pesticide-coated seeds are considered “treated articles” and not regulated as pesticides. Beekeepers, farmers, and environmental advocacy organizations,  led by  the Center for Food Safety,  filed a lawsuit in early 2016  challenging this gap in protection. And there is precedent for state legislatures to pass a law establishing authority to regulate coated seeds. Earlier this year the state of Vermont  granted its Secretary of Agriculture  the ability to write rules addressing neonic coated seeds.

The Governor’s order also requires the Department of Agriculture to review neonic product labels and implement appropriate state-level restrictions on their use, increase enforcement of label requirements for pesticides that are acutely toxic to bees, and develop best management practices aimed at enhancing the health of pollinators in the state. “Pollinators are vital to agriculture and agriculture is a vital to the state of Minnesota,” said Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson. “The Governor’s action today underscores how important it is for the state to be a leader in the response to protect our pollinator population.”

While legislation in  Maryland  and  Connecticut  earlier this year was successful in restricting residential use of neonics, Minnesota’s actions are the first in the U.S. to substantively address the use of neonicotinoids in agriculture.  Studies find  that agricultural landscapes pose distinct threats to bees and wild pollinators. The propensity for neonics to move off site either through drift or runoff leads to  contamination of wildflowers and other areas  where bees forage. The state’s new requirement, if adequately enforced, will help decrease the aggregate amount of neonics used in the state. However, given that these chemicals are long lived in the environment, persisting for months  to several years, in order to truly protect pollinators, beekeepers, Beyond Pesticides, and its allies are calling for a full suspension on the use of neonics.

Measures to reduce neonic use in areas outside agriculture were also included in the executive order. The state’s Environmental Quality Board will create an Interagency Pollinator Protection Team to develop statewide pollinator goals; the Department of Natural Resources will develop strategies to minimize pesticide and improve pollinator habitat on land managed by the agency; the Board of Soil and Water Resources will incorporate pollinator protection into its projects and programs; and the Department of Transportation will enhance pollinator habitat on state-owned rights of way. The Governor also established what will become a 15–member Committee on Pollinator Protection “to ensure that Minnesota citizens have a seat at the table in shaping the solutions that will ensure a healthy pollinator population and continued strength of our agricultural economy.”

Minnesota’s state-level actions are in large part due to a groundswell of local advocacy that has succeeded in protecting pollinators. Sixteen localities in Minnesota, including its  largest city Minneapolis  and its  capital St. Paul, have passed resolutions restricting the use of neonics by its local government. While the state’s efforts are laudable, it is critical these actions be institutionalized through legislation. It will take continued pressure from local governments and community groups to ensure that state lawmakers protect pollinators regardless of who sits in the Governor’s office.

Advocates would like to  Gov. Dayton’s executive order  as  just the latest in a string of victories aimed at reducing honey bee and other pollinator’s exposure to toxic pesticides. With one in three bites of food dependent on honey bees, it is critical that other states, particularly those with intensive agriculture, take steps to limit the use of neonicotinoid insecticides. Although the White House established a National Pollinator Health Strategy in 2015, groups including Beyond Pesticides underscore that it does not do enough to protect pollinators from pesticides. In January of this year, EPA confirmed that neonicotinoids are highly toxic to bees, but its actions to date have also done little to reverse unsustainable declines.

Individuals concerned about the decline of pollinators in their state and community can start work now to protect them. Become a backyard beekeeper, and advocate for wholesale policy changes in the ways and reasons pesticides are used. Use Beyond Pesticides’ model community pesticide ordinance or pollinator resolution as a guide. If in an agricultural area, engage with your farming neighbors, and encourage them to plant pollinator habitat strips and eliminate their use of systemic pesticides. There’s so much to be done to protect pollinators from toxic pesticides, but none of it will happen without strong public engagement at every level of government. To help in the shift away from all toxic pesticides, see Beyond Pesticides’ organic agriculture webpage.

Source: Newsroom — Office of Governor Mark Dayton and Lt. Governor Tina Smith

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

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