With Some Bee Protective Suggestions, Oregon Task Force Fails to Focus on Neonics

Washington,DC–(ENEWSPF)–November 24, 2014.  Last Wednesday, a special Task Force on Pollinator Health in Oregon delivered a series of recommendations to the Oregon legislature on how to help the state’s honey bees, native bees, and other pollinators,but failed to address the clear threat that neonicotinoid insecticides pose to pollinators. Because the task force only prioritized consensus recommendations, groups representing pesticide manufacturers, retailers, and the nursery industry were able to stifle advice on protecting pollinators from highly toxic, long-lived systemic neonicotinoids and other potential pesticide threats. Instead, the consensus decisions include: expansion of outreach and education, supporting new research, and increasing pollinator habitat. Five of the eight voting members also supported targeted oversight of pesticide use.

According to Xerces Society, one of the conservationist members of the task force, industry’s opposition to targeted oversight of pesticide use stood in stark contrast with the scientist, master gardener, beekeeper and conservationists on the task force. Actions opposed only by industry representatives include requiring a pesticide applicator’s license for anyone who regularly uses pesticides as part of his or her job, halting the use of two highly toxic, long-lived neonicotinoid insecticides (clothianidin and thiamethoxam) on linden trees, and increasing consumer awareness about whether retail ornamental plants have been treated with neonicotinoids.

The task force was established following the new law, HB 4139, which was enacted partially in response to several bee-kill incidents in Oregon last summer, particularly one that killed more than 50,000 bumblebees after a licensed pesticide applicator sprayed blooming linden trees, a violation of the pesticide label. The Oregon Department of Agriculture confirmed that the massive bee die-off was caused by the use of the neonicotinoid insecticide, dinotefuran. HB 4139 required the Governor to establish the task force directed to continue the research on bee health and pesticides for legislative action in 2015. The bill also requires anyone applying for a pesticide license to take a course on pollinators and pesticides and pass the exam. While the legislation fell short of the original bill that would have restricted the neonicotinoids –dinotefuran, imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, many advocates in Oregon saw this as a step forward for bee protection considering the lack of action by the EPA and other states.

Mounting science has documented the neonicotinoid class of pesticides as a major factor in bee decline. Neonicotinoids have been shown, even at low levels, to impair foraging, navigational and learning behavior in bees, as well as suppress their immune system to point of making them susceptible to pathogens and disease. (Read No Longer a Big Mystery.) These chemicals are also systemic, meaning they contaminate the entire plant, including pollen and nectar, leading to contamination of the entire colony, including juvenile bees, when pollen is taken back to the hive. More recent research is even finding that neonicotinoids persist for long periods of time in the environment, contaminating soil and water, and adversely affecting other non-target organisms.

“By excluding pesticide oversight in the priorities, the task force has created a two-legged stool,” said task force member Aimee Code, Pesticide Program Coordinator for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. “If we are to bring back pollinators we need to address all the core issues.”

The plight of bees and other pollinators is an important one for all to be concerned. Bees and other pollinators provide an estimated $600 million in pollination service in Oregon alone. That contribution helps provide better quality fruits and vegetables and helps keep food prices down. Across the U.S., one third of the foods we eat are dependent on pollination services, which contribute $20-30 billion to the agricultural economy. The reliance on toxic, systemic inputs that dominate our agricultural systems and how we manage pests, is being found to have more environmental costs than benefits. The time for action is now.

On the plus side, the task force presented some good consensus recommendations. These include: increasing pesticide registration fees to fund Oregon Department of Agriculture’s pesticide use outreach and education; prioritizing creation and management of pollinator friendly habitat on state lands, including parks and rights-of-way; and supporting the creation of a bee-health diagnostics facility. For more information on how to improve pollinator health and habitat, see the BEE Protective webpage. BEE Protective includes a variety of educational materials to help encourage municipalities, campuses, and individual homeowners to adopt policies and practices that protect bees and other pollinators from harmful pesticide applications and create pesticide-free refuges for these beneficial organisms. See the Pollinator-Friendly Seeds and Nursery Directory, which lists sources of seeds and plant starts that are safe for bees and not poisoned with neonicotinoids or other pesticides.

Members of the Task Force on Pollinator Health:

Dr. Ramesh Sagili (task force Chair), Assistant Professor (honey bee health, nutrition and pollination), Oregon State University.
Aimee Code, Pesticide Program Coordinator, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
Scott Dahlman, Executive Director, Oregonians for Food and Shelter.
Betsy Earls, Vice President & Counsel, Associated Oregon Industries.
George Hansen, commercial beekeeper, owner of Foothills Honey Company.
Rich Little, Master Gardener, Oregon State University Extension Service.
Doug Moore, Executive Director, Oregon League of Conservation Voters.
Jeff Stone, Executive Director, Oregon Association of Nurseries.
Non-voting members: State Senator Chuck Thomsen and State Representative Jeff Reardon.

Sources: Task Force on Pollinator Health’s reportXerces Society Press Release, http://www.beyondpesticides.org

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