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Daily News Blog

03
Nov

States Step In to Restrict Bee-Toxic Pesticides, California the Latest in Absence of EPA Action

California map - latest state enacting into policy addressing bee-toxic neonics

(Beyond Pesticides, November 3, 2023) California joined 10 other states that have laws partially restricting use of bee-toxic neonicotinoid (neonic) insecticides with the enactment of CA AB 363 into law in October, 2023.  California’s new law will ban over-the-counter sales of lawn and garden neonics by 2025, limiting their use to licensed pesticide applicators. The legislation gives the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (CA EPA) until June 30, 2029 to take broader action on neonics, if it determines restrictions are necessary. CA 363 will take neonics out of the hands of homeowners, while allowing lawn care companies to continue use. The California law falls short of the strongest state laws in Nevada, New Jersey, and Maine that eliminate all outdoor (nonagricultural) uses of these chemicals, even by lawn care companies. In June, 2023 Nevada became the third state to ban lawn and garden uses of neonics, while Colorado prohibited homeowner use of land and garden neonic products, similar to laws in Maryland, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and VermontMinnesota recently banned neonic use on state lands and granted its home-rule subdivisions the authority to ban “pollinator-lethal pesticides” (those with bee warning labels) under its state law preempting local authority to restrict pesticides. All of these state-level restrictions pale in comparison to the robust protections currently implemented in the European Union (EU), where the EU has banned neonicotinoid pesticide use on all outdoor areas, allowing use only in enclosed greenhouses. 

Advocates view as positive the 11 states acting on neonics and asserting their authority in the absence of action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but see the legislative action as falling short, given the escalating and devastating health, biodiversity, and climate crises that are linked to neonicotinoids and other petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers. Evaluating individual hazardous pesticides has been dubbed a process of the “whack-a-mole.” Professor and author David Goulson, PhD, who studies the enormity of the pollinator and biodiversity crisis, recently spoke at Beyond Pesticides’ September National Forum Series, and urged a rejection of this “whack a mole” approach in favor of a systemic change to stop all pesticide and synthetic chemical use. The solution, he said, can be found in a systems approach like organic land management; it is effective and will safeguard pollinators, food production, wildlife, water quality, and the environment, while reducing risks to human health.

Beyond Pesticides advocates for the transition from chemical dependency to organic land management in food production, and in parks, playing fields, and all recreational and public spaces. “We urge elected officials nationwide to see the looming biodiversity collapse as reason for broader action to eliminate petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers with organic systems that are effective and cost competitive,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides. “Each ban or partial regulation of a particular pesticide, each bit of research demonstrating harms — these represent small, incremental advances on a pesticide problem that is vast in scope and requires a shift to organic,” says Mr. Feldman.

Neonics more toxic than DDT

Dr. Goulson, author of Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse (2021), spoke to the role of toxic neonics during Beyond Pesticides’ National Forum Series on September 14, 2023. He said, “One of the properties of neonicotinoids is that they are phenomenally toxic… you certainly heard of DDT. Imidacloprid … is much, much more toxic than other insecticides that went before. It takes just four nanograms per billion of a gram to kill a bee compared to DDT,” making imidacloprid and this new generation of insecticides about 7,000 times more poisonous to a honey bee than DDT. “That means that a teaspoon of imidacloprid would be enough to kill one and a quarter billion honey bees. So the fact that we are applying hundreds of tons of these chemicals to the landscape is quite concerning.”

Treated seeds loophole remains (CA 1042 and NY Birds and Bees Protection Act)

California Governor Gavin Newsom declined to sign into law AB 1042, which could have made a modest step toward addressing the neonic-treated seeds loophole that allows neonic-coated seed to go unregulated by either EPA or state regulatory agencies, despite proven deadly effects and well documented harm to biodiversity, human health, and widespread contamination of groundwater and surface waters. The New York State Assembly passed a similar bill (A03226), the Birds and Bees Protection Act, that awaits NY Governor Kathy Hochul’s signature. The NY bill would ban neonicotinoid use on outdoor ornamental plants and turf, with a general exemption for agriculture, except for treated seeds. The coated seed provision of the act would be suspended if the Commissioner of Agriculture determines that neonic-free seeds are not commercially available. With chemical companies controlling the seed market, the effectiveness of this provision remains to be seen. A phaseout of treated seeds would incentive and help grow the neonic-free seed market. The bill would leave the most widely used neonicotinoid, imidacloprid, as well as thiamethoxam or acetamiprid, on the market until July 1, 2025.

Meanwhile, the intensive use of neonics as seed treatments continues despite a stark lack of efficacy. EPA itself (in 2014) reported that “seed treatments with neonicotinoid insecticides provide little or no overall benefit in controlling insects or improving yield or quality in soybean production.” (See the detailed EPA letter on the underlying research here.) Research in 2019, as reported by Beyond Pesticides, found that neonic-treated soybeans provide negligible benefits to farmers in terms of yield and overall economic benefit. EPA ought, in its neonic registrations and re-registrations, to evaluate whether pesticide compounds — especially those with such demonstrated harms as neonics cause—are necessary and effective before introducing them into the environment or allowing their continued deployment.

Minnesota took a small step regulating pesticide-treated seeds, including neonicotinoid coated seeds, and their disposal, after treated seeds were used in ethanol production, creating toxic waste with disastrous consequences. Because of a regulatory loophole, EPA does not monitor or otherwise regulate treated seed use and disposal. In the absence of any federal regulation, Minnesota laws HF1317/ SF1339  will now direct state officials to develop rules and consumer guidelines for the proper use and disposal of “waste” pesticide-treated seeds.

Because the use of neonics is widespread, from agriculture to parks, playing fields, to lawns, public exposure is dramatically high. As reported in January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites half the U.S. population encountering at least one type of neonic daily, with children ages three to five having the highest exposure risk. Health impacts of exposure to neonics can include neurotoxicity, reproductive anomalies, hepatic and renal damage, and an increase in gene expression linked to hormone-dependent breast cancer… mounting evidence over the past years shows that chronic exposure to sublethal (low) levels of pesticides can cause neurotoxic effects or exacerbate preexisting chemical damage to the nervous system. The impacts of pesticides on the nervous system, including the brain, are hazardous, especially for chronically exposed individuals (e.g., farmworkers) or during critical windows of vulnerability and development (e.g., childhood, pregnancy).

Pollinator losses have broad implications for reducing the global production of nuts, fruits, and vegetables by 3-5%, and this loss of healthy, nutrient-dense food is resulting in over 425,000 excess deaths each year, according to research published in December 2022 in Environmental Health Perspectives. According to researchers, “Today’s estimated health impacts of insufficient pollination would be comparable to other major global risk factors: those attributable to substance use disorders, interpersonal violence, or prostate cancer.”

The availability of nontoxic alternative materials and practices, as are used in organic management, raises questions about EPA’s determination that neonic use is “reasonable” for registered crops under federal pesticide law, given competitive productivity and profitability without it. Beyond Pesticides advocates for organic land and agriculture management as precautionary approach to pest prevention and management. Buying, growing, and supporting organic can help eliminate the extensive use of pesticides in the environment and from your diet. For more information on why organic is the right choice for consumers and the farmworkers who grow our food, see Beyond Pesticides webpage, Health Benefits of Organic Agriculture.

You can eliminate neonics and all toxic pesticides used in your community by working with Beyond Pesticides and it Parks for a Sustainable Future program. See also Tools for Change. For nuts-and-bolts information on strategy and implementation of organic land management, attend Beyond Pesticides National Forum Series session 3 online on November 29, 2023 at 2pm Eastern—Transformative Community-Based Change from the Ground Up: Managing Parks and Playing Fields with Organic Practices and Policies.

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

Sources: Neonicotinoid insecticides: Failing to come to grips with a predictable environmental disaster, American Bird Conservancy, June 2023; Environmental Health Perspectives; States Make Way for Pesticide Reform; EPA Report on Neonics Proves US Has ‘Five-Alarm Fire’ on Its Hands, Green Groups Say; Thinking Holistically When Making Land Management Decisions

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