State Adopts New Regulations to Protect Pollinators


BOSTON A coalition of beekeepers, public health, farming and environmental advocacy organizations applauded today’s action of the Massachusetts Pesticide Board Subcommittee to protect pollinators by restricting the use of the harmful class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, or “neonics”. 

The new regulations will remove pesticide products containing neonics from retail stores and require that only licensed pesticide applicators use such products for lawn care or on turf, trees, shrubs and gardens. Today’s decision marks the first time in the United States that a state pesticide regulatory body has restricted use of neonic pesticides.

“This is good news. Removing these dangerous pesticides from store shelves is an important step forward toward our ultimate goal of significantly curtailing the use of neonics and protecting our bees and other pollinators,” said Deirdre Cummings, Legislative Director, MASSPIRG.  “Without bees, we wouldn’t have cranberries, apples, broccoli, coffee beans or even chocolate. We need to protect our bees and our public health as almost all the food we eat has been pollinated by these incredible little insects.”

“The Massachusetts Beekeepers Association is pleased that the Massachusetts Pesticide Board Subcommittee voted today to put restrictions on the use of Neoncotinoids. These restrictions are a small step in the right direction to protecting all the pollinators in our state,” said Mary Duane, President, Massachusetts Beekeepers Association.

“This marks an incremental victory which took us 6 years to land, and it only happened because of immense, ongoing grassroots action and legislative allies who are willing to hold state regulators accountable,” remarked Martin Dagoberto, Policy Director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, Mass. Chapter. “We still have a monumental endeavor ahead if we are to reduce toxins and rein in the toxic influence of the chemical lobby,” Dagoberto added.

Today’s decision comes after MDAR released a scientific literature review finding overwhelming evidence that neonics are harming pollinators. The review found that nearly all of the impact-based studies reviewed (42 of 43) cited neonics as a contributor to pollinator declines, and pointed out that the only study with mixed results was industry-funded.

“Local agriculture is important for food security, which is more important than ever under COVID,” said Clint Richmond, Toxics and Agriculture Policy lead for the Massachusetts Sierra Club. He added, “Pollinator populations are indicators of environmental health, and pesticide management is one part of the equation. We are glad this step has been taken.”

Support for protecting pollinators and reducing pesticides use has grown significantly in recent  years, as new science emerges and advocates mobilize. Since 2015, Rep. Carolyn Dykema has spearheaded efforts within the legislature, garnering strong bipartisan support for An Act to protect Massachusetts pollinators. Today’s regulatory change falls short of the measures outlined in the proposed legislation, most notably lacking a requirement which would give consumers the information they need to opt out of neonic usage in services that they purchase from licensed applicators. Legislation had also called for the Department to update its education curriculum to include information about the risks that neonicotinoids pose to pollinators.

Efforts to restrict neonics have been supported by Attorney General Maura Healey, more than 100 advocacy organizations, and tens of thousands of residents who have contacted legislators in support of such measures.

In 2019, Rep. Dykema successfully introduced a measure requiring the Mass. Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) to study the impacts of neonics on pollinators. Today’s decision was compelled by that legislative requirement, as outlined in the December 2020 joint testimony signed by 80 legislators.

Representatives of 55 agricultural, environmental, climate and pollinator advocacy groups, farms and businesses also submitted joint testimony at the public hearing for the literature review last December. In their testimony, the coalition outlined action beyond today’s consumer ban, which they feel is necessary in light of the review’s findings, including a ban on the use of neonic-coated corn and soybean seeds, labeling of nursery plants treated with neonics and a ban on aesthetic-only uses. Advocates say that they plan to continue to push for such measures.

In 2018 outdoor uses of neonics were banned across the European Union, and in recent years state legislatures in Connecticut, Maryland and Vermont have recently passed legislation similar to today’s regulatory decision.

“Across Massachusetts, thousands of people have spoken out to save our pollinators,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts. “A world without bees would mean a world without many of our favorite foods. Removing neonicotinoids from store shelves is an important step to keep bees and all of our pollinators safe.”


Supplemental reference material:

Copy of motion, as passed on 3/1/21:

That the Pesticide Board Subcommittee has determined that current uses of neonicotinoid pesticides used in outdoor non-structural uses or outdoor non-agricultural uses, may pose unreasonable adverse effects to the environment as well as pollinators, when taking into account the economic, social and environmental costs and benefits of their use in the Commonwealth. Therefore, the Subcommittee modifies the registration classification of pesticide products containing neonicotinoids that have outdoor non-structural uses or outdoor non-agricultural uses on the label from general use to state restricted use. These include but are not limited to, uses on lawn and turf, trees and shrubs, ornamentals, and vegetable and flower gardens. The reclassification shall begin on July 1, 2022.

Representatives Smitty Pigantelli, Carolyn Dykema, and James Hawkins join bee supporters for Pollinator Protection Week outside the StateHouse.