State-funded study confirms “neonics” pesticides harmful to pollinators

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Legislature must act now


State-funded study confirms “neonics” pesticides harmful to pollinators

Legislature must act now

BOSTON A coalition of beekeepers, public health, farming and agriculture and environmental organizations praised the findings of a recent report on bees and insecticides,  issued by the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture (MDAR) and called for immediate action by the legislature to protect our pollinators and pass  H. 763, An Act to protect Massachusetts pollinators  before the legislative session ends on January 5.  

MDAR held a public hearing today on the overwhelming evidence in its scientific literature review,  released earlier this year that found neonicotinoid insecticides (“neonics”) are harming pollinators. The research found that virtually 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. 

“The evidence is clear, and action is long overdue,” said Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG legislative director. “We must restrict the use of neonics which are harming our pollinators. While the legislature is often faced with difficult choices and decisions – this is not one of them with more than 75% of the legislature supporting the pending bill. The clock is running out however, as this legislative session ends on January 5, 2020.”

In the last decade, declining pollinator health, specifically among honeybee and wild bee populations, has been a cause for concern both in Massachusetts and around the country. In 2017, Massachusetts beekeepers reported a 64.9 percent annual loss in colony numbers.

Support for protecting pollinators and significantly restricting the use of neonics is widespread.  H. 763, An Act to protect Massachusetts pollinators, filed by state Rep. Carolyn Dykema and a bipartisan group of 153 legislative sponsors in Massachusetts. The bill is supported by Attorney General Maura Healey and more than 100 local organizations and is pending in the legislature’s House Ways and Means Committee.

“Science has clearly shown what many of us have suspected for a long time: that unchecked and widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides has seriously damaging effects on pollinator health. This should be a concern to all of us given the key role pollinators play in food production and the health of our natural ecosystems,” said Rep. Carolyn Dykema.  “Now is absolutely the time to prevent further harm by restricting use of these harmful products.”

Given the Department of Agriculture’s findings, the coalition is calling for immediate action to   restrict the use of neonics. “The overuse of these persistent toxins threatens our pollinators and by extension, the food security of our Commonwealth – a vulnerability which has been highlighted during this pandemic,” said Martin Dagoberto, policy director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Massachusetts. “The administration has had years to take action and restrict pollinator-harming chemicals – but they have yet to do so, despite their own findings.  So, if the department won’t take action then the legislature must act and pass the bill,” he continued.  

“As representatives of the beekeepers of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, given the clear need to fill a gap in federal regulation in a time of ecological collapse, we at Mass Bee are calling for immediate action to protect the health and ecological integrity of our Commonwealth,” said Peter Delaney, past president of the Mass Beekeepers Association, in testimony on neonics.

Bees play a vital role in the ecosystem. They pollinate much of the food we depend on, and without them, we wouldn’t have such staples as apples, broccoli, coffee beans or even chocolate.  In addition, bees pollinate alfalfa, one of the main crops on which dairy cows feed. This means bees affect whether we have milk, cheese and ice cream.

“A world without bees would mean a world without many of our favorite foods,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts. “Across Massachusetts, thousands of people have spoken out to save our pollinators. It’s time for our legislature to step in and protect the bees.”

“Bees are a key piece of our food system, and it’s encouraging to see MDAR catching up on the science,” said Jason Davidson, food and agriculture campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “For the sake of our food supply and our environment, we cannot afford to delay protecting Massachusetts’ pollinators any longer.”

This coalition represents a broad variety of groups working toward protecting bees, which pollinate 71 of 100 crop species which provide food worldwide.

The organizations which are submitting joint testimony to the Department of Agriculture calling for action to restrict and reduce use of neonic pesticides include:  

350 Central Mass, Bee Friendly Williamstown, Berkshire Farms Apiary (North Adams), Beyond Pesticides, Blue Hill Gardens (Monterey), Bridgewater Green Committee, Caretaker Farm (Williamstown), Center for Biological Diversity, Climate Action Now Western MA, Community Action Works, Debra’s Natural gourmet (Concord), Earthwise Landscaping (Amherst), EcoHealth Advocates (Newburyport), Elders Climate Action Mass., Environment Massachusetts, Environmental Genomics Inc. (Southborough), FCCPR Climate Change Task Force (Greenfield), Friends of Holly Hill Farm, Inc. (Cohasset), Friends of the Earth U.S., Garden Club of Cohasset, GreenCAPE, Hilltown Anti-Herbicide Coalition (Ashfield), Island Grown Initiative (Martha’s Vineyard), Landscape Interactions (Northampton), LEAD for Pollinators, Inc., Local Harmony (Leverett), Manda Farm (Plainfield), Mass Audubon, Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, Massachusetts Sierra Club, MASSPIRG , Monterey Community Garden, Mothers Out Front (Boston), Native Plant Trust, Natural Resources Defense Council, NOFA/Mass, Plainfield Agricultural Commission, Pollinator Protectors (Needham), Pollinator Stewardship Council, Pollinators Welcome (Turners Falls), RESTORE: The North Woods, Round the Bend Farm (Dartmoth), Southeastern Massachusetts Pine Barrens Alliance, Sustainable Sudbury, That’s A Plenty Farm & Pollinator Habitat (Northampton), The Enviro Show (Florence), Upswing Farm LLC (Pepperell), Wendell State Forest Alliance, Western Mass Pollinator Networks, Wild Cohasset Inc. 

Mass Bee submitted individual testimony which aligned strongly with the joint testimony.