With New Rules, Minnesota Leads the Country in Protecting Pollinators from Pesticides

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With New Rules, Minnesota Leads the Country in Protecting Pollinators from Pesticides

 Due to state & federal loophole, bee-harming seed coatings unaffected by state’s decision

St. Paul - This morning at the State Fair, Governor Mark Dayton and Commissioner of Agriculture Dave Frederickson announced Minnesota’s comprehensive new plans to limit the use of bee-harming pesticides across the state. Today’s decision concludes a nearly 3-year review of the impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on pollinators, conducted by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA). The executive order announced today makes Minnesota a national leader in pollinator protection — and the first state to tackle neonicotinoid use in farm fields and on public lands.

“Today, Minnesota set the strongest rules in the nation to protect pollinators from pesticides,” said Lex Horan of Pesticide Action Network. “The plan will help ensure that bee-harming pesticides won’t be used unnecessarily,  and it lays the groundwork for reducing the use of neonicotinoid seed coatings. This decision is rooted in the resounding scientific evidence that neonicotinoids are harmful to pollinators. It’s past time for state and federal decisionmakers to take action to restrict the use of bee-harming pesticides, and today Minnesota did just that.”

Minnesota’s comprehensive plan to protect the state’s honey bees, native bees, butterflies and other pollinators includes pledges from multiple state agencies to reduce pesticide use and increase critical habitat. The most significant policy change is MDA’s new commitment to ensuring that neonicotinoids are used as a last resort. Growers who want to apply neonicotinoids to their crops or plants must provide a “verification of need” to the department of agriculture. MDA has also pledged to review pesticides currently registered in the state and potentially restrict those known to be harmful to pollinators.

Unfortunately, MDA’s restriction on neonicotinoids does not apply to all uses of the insecticides  in the state, thanks to a federal loophole that exempts seed coatings from being classified as a “pesticide application” by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In his announcement today, Governor Dayton called on the state legislature to close the loophole on seed coatings by authorizing MDA to provide much-needed oversight.

“This morning’s announcement is very welcome news to beekeepers,” said Steve Ellis, a commercial beekeeper and owner of Old Mill Honey Company. “It’s especially refreshing to hear the Governor’s commitment to tackling the issue of seed coatings. Widespread use of pesticide seed coatings has serious impacts on bees, from pesticide dust and the lingering persistence of the pesticides in air and water. U.S. EPA should step up and provide oversight of these coatings, and Minnesota state officials should look to fill the vacuum until then, starting with legislative action.”

Nationwide, about 94 percent of corn seed, and 33-50 percent of soybean seed, is coated with neonicotinoids before being planted. Though corn and soy are major Minnesota crops, neonicotinoid-coated seeds grown in the state will be excluded from the state’s new policies unless the legislature takes action. In January 2016, beekeepers, farmers and advocacy groups filed a lawsuit against EPA for failing to adequately oversee the widespread use of neonicotinoid seed coatings — the most common application of these bee-harming pesticides.

“As Minnesotans, we care deeply about bees and we’ve pushed for state officials to do the same,” said Erin Rupp, beekeeper and executive director of Pollinate Minnesota. “With this comprehensive plan, Minnesota is taking statewide action that matches the individual and collective action of its residents. It’s a huge step toward protecting our pollinators, and one that sets amazing precedent for what other states should do to protect bees, our food and our ecosystems.”

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PANNA (Pesticide Action Network North America) works to replace pesticide use with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives. As one of five autonomous PAN Regional Centers worldwide, we link local and international consumer, labor, health, environment and agriculture groups into an international citizens' action network. This network challenges the global proliferation of pesticides, defends basic rights to health and environmental quality, and works to ensure the transition to a just and viable society.

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