Vermont House Passes Pollinator Protection Bill

The Vermont House of Representatives gave its strong endorsement yesterday to legislation designed to protect bees and other pollinators in the state from toxic neonicotinoid pesticides, known commonly as neonics. The vote in the House was 112-29.

The bill (H.706) has four main components: (1) it prohibits the use of field crop seeds (corn, soy, wheat, and cereal) treated with neonicotinoids; (2) it restricts outdoor uses of neonicotinoids that are harmful to pollinators; (3) it requires best management practices for allowed neonicotinoid uses; and (4) it incorporates neonicotinoid-treated seeds into the regulatory framework that already applies to other neonicotinoids.

It also includes an emergency exemption that allows the Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets, in consultation with the Agency of Natural Resources, to lift the prohibition if seed companies fail to provide farmers with a sufficient supply of neonicotinoid-free seed or if requiring farmers to purchase neonicotinoid-free seed would cause financial hardship. Finally, it provides farmers, service providers, seed dealers, and seed companies with time to prepare by delaying the prohibition’s start date until January 1, 2029, the same date that a similar prohibition begins in New York State.

A statewide public opinion survey released this week by the Vermont Public Interest Research Group found nearly universal agreement among Vermonters about the importance of pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and moths, and deep concern over their declining numbers.

The survey also found 83% of Vermonters in support of “a phaseout of nearly all neonic pesticides in Vermont, with exemptions available in case of emergency.”  This language tracks the key elements of H.706.

“For people who eat, today’s vote to better protect bees and other pollinators in Vermont is real victory,” said Paul Burns, executive director of VPIRG. “VPIRG applauds the House for finding a way to do right by both bees and farmers in the same bill.”

“I want to be clear, bees and other pollinators in Vermont are in steep decline. Neonic pesticide exposure is a key reason behind this decline, and neonics actually provide no clear benefit to most farmers that use them,” said Bianca Braman, Vice President of the Vermont Beekeepers Association Board of Directors. “Vermont’s beekeepers play a vital role in our state’s agricultural economy and food security. As farmers, we’re asking the state to phase-out the unnecessary use of a chemical that’s threatening to wipe out our small but critically important livestock.”

“Neonicotinoid seed treatments offer farmers almost no benefit and poison the pollinators that make growing healthy food possible,” said Scott Sanderson, Staff Attorney and Manager of Conservation Law Foundation’s Farm and Food Initiative. “With today’s vote, the Vermont House took a critical step to protect the state’s agricultural economy, all while providing farmers necessary safeguards.”

“Neonics are the most widely used insecticides in the country and it’s time to end their environmental harm to our pollinators, birds, other wildlife and aquatic ecosystems,” said Crea Lintilhac. “It’s time we have meaningful restrictions on their use, move towards eliminating their use, and recognize that we can no longer ignore the impact on imperiled species.”

“Vermont’s legislators have taken a major step forward in safeguarding the health of pollinators by passing H706. Farmers are being sold neonicotinoid seed treatments that do not benefit them, and their widespread use is causing harm to bees, aquatic insects, and the many food chains that depend on insects” said Emily May, Pollinator Conservation Biologist, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

“This is an exciting first step in ultimately reducing the use of harmful pesticides that are a threat to birds, pollinators, and people. It is clear that Vermonters care about our farms and a healthy environment” said Margaret Fowle, Senior Conservation Biologist, Audubon Vermont.

“LCC thanks the Vermont House for their strong support of H.706,” said Lori Fisher, Executive Director of the Lake Champlain Committee, “Neonics have a devastating impact on the environment beyond their target pests, including impairing water quality and harming aquatic ecosystems.”

The legislation must still win final approval from the House, and then is expected to be taken up by the Senate soon. 

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