Victory for Pollinators! Retail stores to stop selling neonic pesticides in Massachusetts
By Marty Dagoberto, NOFA/Mass Policy Director
On March 1st 2021 the Mass. Pesticide Board Subcommittee passed a motion to protect pollinators by restricting the use of neonicotinoid pesticides (“neonics”). The new regulations, which go into effect in 2022, will remove pesticide products containing neonics from retail stores and require that only licenced pesticide applicators use such products for lawn care or on turf, trees, shrubs and gardens. (Read the specifics about the motion, here.)
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. We still have a monumental endeavor ahead if we are to reduce toxins and rein in the toxic influence of the chemical lobby!
Please help us thank your state legislators “for protecting pollinators and requiring the Pesticide Board Subcommittee to follow the science on neonics.” We will need their help to reform how pesticides are regulated in our state moving forward! Here is a spreadsheet listing all of the legislators who supported Rep. Dykema’s Pollinator Protection Act and those who signed her joint testimony to the Subcommittee last December. If either of your legislators is on this list (“Who are my legislators?“), please give them a personal phone call or email. If they get personal recognition from a few constituents, it will go a LONG way toward enlisting their help moving forward.
As our members and followers well know, for years we’ve been pushing the legislature to pass An Act to protect Massachusetts Pollinators, sponsored by pollinator champion Representative Carolyn Dykema. Though the bill garnered widespread bipartisan support, the bill never made it to the floor for a vote. In 2019, Rep. Dykema successfully introduced a budget appropriation for $100,000, which required the Department of Agricultural Resources to perform a literature review on the impacts of neonicotinoids on pollinators. (This report and decision based upon it were due by the end of 2019.) The literature review, released at the beginning of 2020, outlined the 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.
With efforts stalled in the legislature for years, we focused efforts on the Massachusetts Pesticide Board Subcommittee. This is the regulatory body tasked with deciding which pesticides can be used in Massachusetts, and by which users. The subcommittee currently consists of representatives of various state departments: Bureau of Environmental Health Food Protection Program, Department of Agricultural Resources, Department of Conservation and Recreation, Department of Public Health and one member of the public appointed by the governor (a pesticide applicator).
As we previously reported, a hearing of the Subcommittee last December (over Zoom) had over 100 supporters of restricting neonics in attendance. Frustration with a lack of meaningful action on pesticides was echoed by many of the two dozen advocates who testified. Our legislative pollinator champion, Rep. Carolyn Dykema, delivered a fierce statement signed by 80 of her legislative colleagues, which included this passage:
“Despite concerns about neonicotinoids being brought to the Department’s attention repeatedly by the Attorney General’s office, legislators and others since 2014, the [Pesticide Board] Subcommittee failed to initiate an independent review or take any consequential action until 2019, when legislatively required to do so. This inability or unwillingness to respond to concerns that clearly fall within its purview raises concerns about whether the Subcommittee is able to fulfill its charge under the law to regulate pesticides.” – Rep. Carolyn Dykema and 80 other legislators in a joint statement
At the next meeting of the Subcommittee, on February 16, 2021 the following motion was introduced by Commissioner John Lebeaux:
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.
This motion was then adopted without amendment at their next meeting on March 1, 2021.
While the motion includes the key element of “An Act to protect Massachusetts pollinators,” – the consumer ban on neonic pesticides, it leaves out several other very important provisions. Most notably, it lacks a requirement to provide consumers information on the dangers of neonicotinoids that could lead them to opting out of any neonic application to their property. The Pollinator Protection Act had also called on regulators to update pesticide applicator training curriculum about the risks neonics pose to pollinator populations.
As our national allies at Beyond Pesticides point out: Massachusetts now joins Maryland, Connecticut, and Vermont in restricting consumer uses of these hazardous insecticides. But it is evident that these victories must only be the first step toward broader protections for pollinator populations.
At the hearing last December, representatives of 55 agricultural, environmental, climate and pollinator advocacy groups, farms and businesses submitted this joint testimony outlining restrictions we see as necessary in light of the findings of the literature review. These recommendations include 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. The coalition will continue to push for these measures and do so, we will need the continued support of the grassroots. (For now, please contact your legislators to thank them for supporting this first step – details above.)
This small but very significant victory was made possible by the sustained organizing of a small coalition of advocacy groups supported by a much broader coalition of allies and the immense grassroots movement to protect pollinators.
Special thanks go to our core coalition partners over these past 5+years:
THANK YOU to our immense coalition of advocacy organizations, farms and businesses who have endorsed our efforts and worked with us to raise the visibility of the need to reduce pesticides use and protect pollinators!
350 Central Mass
Arboretum Park Conservancy
Bee Friendly Williamstown
Beit Ahavah Reform Synagogue
Berkshire Farms Apiary
Berkshire Natural Resources Council
Biodiversity for Livable Climate
Blue Hill Gardens
Boston Health Advocates
Bridgewater Green Committee
Brookline Greenspace Alliance
Bug Hill Farm
Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association
Center for Biological Diversity
Climate Action Now Western MA
Community Action Works
Connecticut River Conservancy
Conservation Law Foundation
Debra’s Natural gourmet
Deerfield River Watershed Association
Elders Climate Action Mass.
The Enviro Show
Environmental Genomics Inc.
FCCPR Climate Change Task Force
Follow the Honey
Friends of Holly Hill Farm, Inc.
Friends of the Earth U.S.
Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts
Garden Club of Cohasset
Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association
Good Bunch Farms
Green Century Capital Management
Grow Native MA
High Street Hill Association
Hilltown Anti-Herbicide Coalition (HA-HC)
Hitchcock Center for the Environment
Island Grown Initiative
Jamaica Hills Association
Jones River Watershed Association, Inc
Justamere Tree Farm
Kestrel Land Trust
LEAD for Pollinators, Inc.
Left Field Farm
Loring, Wolcott and Coolige Investment
M.U.S.E. Landscape Design and Garden Care
Massachusetts Beekeepers Association (MassBee)
Massachusetts Butterfly Club
Massachusetts Flower Growers Association
Massachusetts Forest Watch
Massachusetts League of Environmental Voters
Massachusetts Nursery and Landscape Association
Massachusetts Rivers Alliance
Massachusetts Sierra Club
Metacomet Land Trust
Middlesex County Beekeepers Association
Monterey Community Garden
Mortillaro Lobster Company
Mothers Out Front
Native Plant Trust
Natural Resources Defense Council
Natural Roots Farm
Norfolk County Beekeepers Association
Northeast Organic Farmers Association, Massachusetts
Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance
Old Creamery Co-Op
Old Friends Farm
Pelham Community Garden
Plainfield Agricultural Commission
Plymouth County Beekeepers’ Association
Pollinator Stewardship Council
Red Fire Farm
RESTORE: The North Woods
Round the Bend Farm
Southeastern Massachusetts Pine Barrens Alliance
Sowing Solutions Permaculture Design & Education
That’s A Plenty Farm & Pollinator Habitat
The Emerald Necklace Conservancy
The Trustees of Reservations
They Keep Bees
Trillium Asset Management
Upswing Farm LLC
Walter Cudnohufsky Associates Inc. Landscape Architects and Planners
We the People Oppose Toxic Spraying
Wendell State Forest Alliance
Western Mass Pollinator Networks
Westport Fisherman’s Association
Westport River Watershed Alliance
White Oak Land Trust
Wild Cohasset Inc.
Williamstown Select Board
Wing and Prayer Nursery
Worcester County Beekeepers Association
Yard Birds Farm
And finally, THANK YOU (YOU!) for being among the tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents who continue to make your voice heard for the pollinators, for providing the PEOPLE POWER needed to counter the influence of the chemical corporations. This is just the beginning – we have a long way to go to bring about the healthy, living landscapes which feed and protect our families and ecosystems.
Photo: Taxomerus Syrphid flies AKA “flower flies,” mating – a pollinator native to Massachusetts, easily mistaken for bees and wasps due to their black and yellow stripes. Photo by Dan Jaffe Wilder, Ecological Horticulturalist at Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary in Wales, MA. Watch Dan’s talk, titled “Kill Your Lawn!” on March 11st at 7PM, first in the Mass. Pollinator Network fundraiser speaker series. Info and registration: http://masspollinatornetwork.org/
Pollinator protection communities from the seacoast to the Berkshires are collaborating with NOFA/Mass to build a state-wide hub for native pollinator protection. Together, we will protect and expand pollinator habitats and reduce the use of biocides in landscapes across the Commonwealth!