2.22.2019 – Neonicotinoids and Reproductive Rights
This week, House Agriculture and Forestry took up H.205, an act relating to the regulation of neonicotinoid pesticides. In past years, the House has studied the effects of pesticides on pollinators, wild and domestic, and passed pollinator protection legislation, but what we did never made it through the entire process and into law.
In recent years, concern has been raised regarding the health of our pollinators, which include domesticated honeybees, as well as our native pollinators like bumblebees, wasps, butterflies, and a host of other species including birds and bats. To some, getting rid of bugs might seem like a good thing. Years ago, as a child in New Jersey, I remember the efforts to eradicate mosquitoes and while I can live without mosquitoes, our pollinators serve a very important function. They help produce the food we eat and without them our diets would look very different. We have heard in testimony that one out of every three bites of food is the result of pollination. It is estimated that we have lost 40% of the insect population in recent years and one theory is that it is due to more prolific use of chemical pesticides.
There have been other stressors for pollinators including urbanization and the resulting loss of forage areas. Agricultural practices have changed over the years and farms where there used to be two crops of hay per year are now doing four and five. Under the two-crop scenario, hay might have been able to flower, but now it is mowed before flowering can occur, reducing forage for the bees. Climate change has caused more extreme weather events that have affected bees and there has been an increase in disease and parasites. Pests such as the Varroa mite have had a very negative impact on our pollinators, not only because they suck the life out of them but also because of the viruses they spread.
Taken from the bill itself, H.205 would require regulation of the sale and application of neonicotinoid pesticides in order to protect pollinator populations. The bill also requires the Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets to register, as a restricted-use pesticide, any neonicotinoid pesticide labeled as approved for outdoor use that is distributed, sold, or offered for sale in the State. Certain products, including treated article seed and pet products, would be exempt from the requirement to register as a restricted-use pesticide. The increased registration fee for a neonicotinoid pesticide would be used to provide educational services, technical assistance, and increased inspection services related to neonicotinoid pesticides and pollinator health. Owners of bees, apiaries, colonies, or hives would have to register with the Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets annually. In addition, new owners of bees, apiaries, colonies, or hives would be required to be certified by the Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets.
This initial draft will be worked on and, most likely, altered. For instance, there has already been significant push-back on requiring new owners to be certified. Education would be potentially difficult but helpful and might be achieved another way. One thing new honey bee owners should know is that they need to treat for mites, whether through integrated pest management or other methods. If they don’t, not only are hives lost but the viruses that are spread are deadly to our native pollinators as well.
Neonicotinoids, known for short as neonics, are a class of insecticides that have been used since the early 1990s. They were developed to replace organophosphates and are preferred because they are less toxic to mammals. They are systemic so they are in every cell of a plant. They work on the central nervous system of an insect and result in paralysis and death. Neonics are safe enough for mammals that they are used on cat and dog flea collars but are extremely toxic to insect.
One of the challenges is that well-meaning people using neonic products may not understand the effect that use is having on our pollinator populations. Labels are sometimes hard to read and, depending on the product, may not indicate how dangerous they are to beneficial insects. Some of the ingredients to look for and avoid when shopping for outdoor garden products are imidacloprid, clothianidin, acetamiprid, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam.
While it is exempted in H.205, treated seed is something that we might consider looking at down the road. The vast majority of corn planted in the United States is treated with a coating that can include several things, among them neonics. A small percentage of the chemical is taken up in the plant, the rest remains in the soil and there is a concern about what happens when the chemical gets into the ground water. Studies indicate that it may be having a negative impact on benthic macroinvertebrates, such as caddisflies, stoneflies, and dragonflies.
On July 1, 2015, Ontario, Canada, created new rules regarding the sale and use of neonicotinoid-treated seed – their goal being to reduce the amount of treated seed being used. They phased in implementation to allow vendors and farmers time to adapt to the new regulatory requirements. Results indicate that between 2014 (baseline data) and 2017 the amount of treated corn seed planted has decreased by 22% and the amount of treated soybean seed has decreased by 27% for an average of 25%. One of the stumbling blocks to implementation was the availability of untreated seed. Last year in H.915, we required seed dealers who sell treated seed to also make available untreated seed. This may be something we consider adding to H.205.
This week we passed H.57, which codifies in Vermont statute the same rights that currently exist on a federal level regarding reproductive rights for women. While it was an emotional and contentious issue and there were many amendments offered to try and weaken it, Floor action was very civil, and everyone who wanted to, got their chance to speak.
While I said it last week, I think it bears repeating, H.57 does not make a policy change. It does not change by whom or when abortions will be performed, nor change the standard of care. No abortion providers in Vermont perform elective abortions in the third trimester. H.57 does not allow for the possibility of future partial-birth or full-birth terminations because they are specifically prohibited by the 2003 “Partial Birth Abortion Act, which is federal law.
As a woman who was a teenager when abortion was not legal, I know that safe abortions were always available to women of means if they chose to have one, either by leaving the country for the procedure or through their own physicians on the QT. It was poor women who risked their lives with back alley procedures that sometimes left them maimed or dead. I trust women to make the right decision for themselves in consultation with their medical providers.