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Daily News Blog

03
Jul

Vermont Leverages New York Limits on Neonic Insecticides with Deference to Chemical-Intensive Agriculture

In June, the Vermont legislature officially passed into law the narrowing and reduction of neonicotinoid insecticides and treated seeds, builds on NY law.

(Beyond Pesticides, July 3, 2024) In June, the Vermont legislature officially passed H.706 into law – a bill that narrows and reduces the use of neonicotinoid insecticides and neonicotinoid-treated seeds. The legislature came together to override a veto of the bill issued by Governor Phil Scott (R). Gov. Scott said the bill’s language had “the potential to produce severe unintended environmental and economic consequences–—particularly for Vermont’s dairy farmers.” The advocacy in support of the legislation called for a holistic, systems change approach to legislative priorities that considers economic, ecological, public health, and climate resilience. The Vermont legislation builds on New York legislation, which in turn is inspired by Quebec’s “verification of need” prescription model (a.k.a. emergency exemptions) that has proven to dramatically reduce the use of certain neonicotinoids, yet enables the continued use of toxic pesticides and a legacy of pesticide dependency in land management and crop production.

Vermont Bill Building on New York

The Vermont Bill (See pages 29 to 44 for final text) mirrors the language of New York’s Birds and Bees Protection Act (S. 1856-A and A. 7640) and adopts New York’s language on timing regarding when critical sections go into effect. The Vermont language contains trigger language that relies on the New York law. “States will frame legislation this way to avoid the perception that the bill will cause economic disadvantage to their markets, and accompanying political fallout, relative to neighboring states,” says Max Sano, organic program associate at Beyond Pesticides. The trigger language reads as follows:

“Sec. 4 (prohibited use; neonicotinoid pesticides) shall take effect on July 1, 2025, provided that the prohibition on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on ornamental plants in New York under N.Y. Environmental Conservation Law § 33-1301(13)(a) is in effect on July 1, 2025. If N.Y. Environmental Conservation Law § 33-1301(13)(a) is not in effect on July 1, 2025, Sec. 4 of this act shall not take effect until the effective date of N.Y. Environmental Conservation Law § 33-1301(13)(a).”

Vermont’s prohibition of neonic pesticides goes into effect July 1, 2025 if New York’s “prohibition on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on ornamental plants” goes into effect as of the same date; if it does not go into effect, Vermont will have to wait for NY regulators to approve their rules (NY Environmental Conservation Law § 37-1101). The same is true on the matter of neonic treated seeds. VT’s treated seed provision goes into effect on January 1, 2029, as long as NY has implemented its identical provision by this date; otherwise, VT will wait for NY. (See page 43, Sec. 8. CONTINGENT REPEAL)

Given that Vermont’s deadline for proposed rules was due for review in the state legislature by July 1, 2024 (See pages 42-43, Sec. 4. IMPLEMENTATION; REPORT; RULEMAKING), there are still major questions regarding best management practices for how this regulation applies to the use of treated seeds before January 1, 2023, neonic pesticide use through written exemption under sections 1105b and 1105c, and agricultural use restrictions for neonic pesticides after July 1, 2025 that go into effect (see pages 40-41, Sec. 6. 6 V.S.A. § 1105a(c)) only if regulators make the following findings through rulemaking:

  1. establishment of threshold levels of pest pressures required prior to use of neonicotinoid treated article seeds or neonicotinoid pesticides;
  2. availability of untreated seeds that are not neonicotinoid treated seeds;
  3. economic impact assessment of crop loss under the policy compared to crop yield when neonicotinoid treated article seeds or neonicotinoid pesticides are used;
  4. relative toxicities of different neonicotinoid treated seeds or neonicotinoid pesticides and the effects of neonicotinoid treated seeds or neonicotinoid pesticides on human health and the environment;
  5. surveillance and monitoring techniques for in-field pest pressures;
  6. ways to reduce pest harborage from conservation tillage practices; and
  7. criteria for a system of approval of neonicotinoid treated article seeds or neonicotinoid pesticides.

Advocates are concerned about the lack of definition for “environmental emergency” and “agricultural emergency,” not to mention the regulatory deference given to the New York Commissioner of Agriculture, Food and Markets in authorizing exemptions—an environmental concern given the influence of the pesticide industry and their allies.

Despite these issues, the New York bill has been lauded by some as model law for other states on the East Coast and across the nation. Beginning on January 1, 2027, New York will join Nevada, New Jersey, and Maine with the most stringent state laws that eliminate all nonagricultural outdoor uses of neonics, except for outdoor uses around structures. In a previous Daily News, Beyond Pesticides analyzed the benefits and pitfalls of legislation that defers to regulatory discretion on rulemaking given the degree to which New York Farm Bureau and other pesticide allies lobbied New York Governor Kathy Hochul, even after legislature passed the bill before Christmas.

In what environmental advocates describe as an undemocratic maneuver, the bill was amended through a “chapter amendment” process in which legislation can be changed without public debate if the leaders of the legislature agree with the governor’s changes to avoid a veto. In the case of S. 1856-A and A. 7640, the governor removed what would have been major legislative advances and crafted a negotiation process for determining the status of coated seed use that runs through 2029. [Note: The alterations can be seen in the linked  line-edited version of the new law—green text is law and red text is the originally enacted legislation.]

As more states in the northeast region of the U.S. and beyond look to states like New York for guidance, and if they follow the Vermont model of deferring to New York (which, at least in the case of this bill, capitulated to pesticide lobbyists and allies in amending the legislative text itself), Beyond Pesticides is advocating that new legislation calls for the replacement of neonic insecticides and all toxic petrochemical pesticides with organic land management systems, including organic compatible inputs.

Quebec, Canada Model

Quebec originally passed restrictions on certain treated seeds back in 2019, with the requirement that farmers must receive written permission from a certified agronomist (“verification of need” model) on the following pesticides: atrazine, chlorpyrifos, and three neonicotinoids (clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam). In delivering testimony in support of NY’s Birds and Bees Protection Act, Louis Robert, retired agronomist who worked for the Quebec Agriculture Ministry, and Genevieve Labrie, PhD, researcher at Mirabel Agri-Food Research Center, pointed to findings in a 2022 report, “Summary of pesticide sales in Quebec,” which concluded that: “Whereas nearly 100% of corn grown in Québec was grown with neonic-treated seeds prior to 2019, today, less than 0.5% is grown from neonic-treated seed. After neonic seed treatments disappeared, crop yields remained constant, and no crop failures have been attributed to the lack of neonic-treated seeds.” It is important to note that there has been an increase in the use of diamides class of insecticides (cyantraniliprole and chlorantraniliprole), in which at least 60% of Quebec corn fields used these pesticides in 2021. However, Mr. Robert says, “[T]his still marks a considerable decrease in the total use of insecticide-treated seeds from the period before the neonicotinoid restrictions took effect.”

It is unclear to what degree this policy has contributed to the expansion of biologique (organic) agriculture in Quebec since it was originally passed, but there are some interesting indicators that suggest a possible correlation. According to a report by Organic Biz, Quebec increased its organic acreage by 65% between 2017 and 2019 based on Canada’s 2021 Census of Agriculture. From 2020 to 2021, Quebec had a 16% gain in total organic producers according to the same 2021 census. Additionally, in a 2021-2025 implementation report for Quebec’s 2020-2030 Sustainable Agriculture Plan, Quebec Organic Grain Producers Union (SPGBQ) indicated that they are on track for a 2025 target of having “at least 60% of the 600 organic production companies…adopt[ing] practices recognized as the most beneficial for soil health and conservation.” In kind, Quebec Organic Milk Producers’ Union (SPLBQ) is on track to “disseminate technical sheets to 80% of traditional companies by 2025” to “[d]evelop tools on buffer zones in organic agriculture as a way to reduce the use of pesticides and improve biodiversity.”

What Now?

Environmental and public health advocates continue to call for a wholesale agricultural transition to organic standards and the National List of Allowed and Prohibited rather than substitution models that rely on state regulators who have a history of bending to pesticide industry influence. See Keeping Organic Strong to learn about the environmental justice, public health, and ecological benefits of organic agriculture and how to engage in strengthening organic standards. See Parks for a Sustainable Future and consider subscribing to Action of The Week to stay informed of opportunities to engage on future policy on neonic insecticides and expanding organic land management principles.

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

Source: NRDC

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