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Wins for bees in the Golden State

on Tue, 07/05/2016 - 19:33

Earlier this month, dozens of pesticide and industrial agriculture lobbyists filled the halls of California’s Capitol as they worked to defeat the Pollinator Protection Act (SB 1282) on the Senate floor. If passed, this bill that would have created new protections for bees from harmful pesticides, along with ensuring that seeds and plants pre-treated with neonicotinoid pesticides be labeled as such. But unfortunately, pesticide industry interests prevailed — a deeply disappointing turn of event for those of us working to protect bees.

But thanks to the hard work of a state senator and many bee advocates, the sting of defeat was short lived. Included in the state budget, just passed this week, are several key components that will help protect pollinators across California.

Worth a [waggle] dance

Despite the setback on SB 1282, Senate Budget Chair Mark Leno, with help from his colleagues and pollinator protectors, shepherded through numerous key resources for bees in the budget, including hiring additional staff at the state Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR). Here is more detail:

  • Funding a new study on impacts of neonic-treated seeds and plants: California decided in 2009 to ignore impacts from neonicotinoid pesticides sold at retail stores and has continued on that path. State officials, like the feds, have determined that pesticides on seeds don't technically count as a "pesticide application" and are therefore not worth studying. This new study will take a close look at the impacts of seeds and plants treated with neonics before planting — and the findings will be included in the state's updated review of these pesticides.
  • A comprehensive pollinator protection plan: Many of the White House-encouraged pollinator protection plans have failed to include the impacts of pesticides on bees and instead placed the burden on beekeepers to avoid these ubiquitous chemicals in the field. The addition of new staff at DPR is meant to help the department address pesticide contaminated forage, and pre-treated nursery plants, and provide protections for both honey bees and native bees.
  • More quickly & effectively evaluate pesticide impacts: New staff will allow DPR to can more fully evaluate the impacts of pesticides on bees and, for example with neonics, move more quickly to adopt necessary restrictions on use.

What happened to the Pollinator Protection Act?

To defeat this bill, industrial ag groups used concerns over a citrus pest as a front to fight off any new rules governing bee-harming neonicotiniod pesticides. It’s unfortunate how often the sky-is-falling message and political might of industry interest groups undermine advancing prosperous, agroecological solutions that benefit more people along the food chain — beekeepers, farmers and eaters.

This is also not a new story. These groups have a long history of overstating crisis in order to maintain use of hazardous chemicals — remember cancer-causing strawberry pesticide methyl iodide?

The California legislature has long been a difficult place to advance progressive food and farming policies, given the strength of industrial agricultural interests. Bayer, Syngenta and the pesticide lobbying association Western Plant Health Association — as well as Western Growers, the Farm Bureau and Citrus Mutual — wield tremendous influence. This is thanks to the financial and political support they offer to a new faction of industrial-ag-leaning Democrats in the Democrat-controlled legislature.

And that's why the victories in the budget were extra sweet. We felt the sting of pesticide corporations and industrial agriculture groups in Sacramento, but it didn't — and won't — last long.