Letter: Protect pollinators, don’t gut pesticide rules

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Dear Senators:

We are writing to alert you of alarming changes to the omnibus agriculture policy bill, SF 1674, and the omnibus agricultural finance bill, SF 780. We urge you to support amendments to fix major flaws included in the versions of the bills that passed out of committee. In their current form, the bills would gut critical pesticide safety programs of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and undermine its ability to safeguard the health and livelihoods of farmers, beekeepers, and farm communities. They also miss critical opportunities to protect our state’s struggling pollinators.

We urge you to support amendments to:

  1. Add the treated seed program back into SF 1674,
  2. Add the pollinator protection account back into SF 780, and
  3. Remove the language attacking MDA’s fundamental authority to ensure pesticides are used safely and according to their labels.

As introduced, SF 1674 and SF 780 contained important language to protect Minnesota’s pollinators that was developed by MDA after its two-year review of neonicotinoid insecticides. The original language in SF 1674 included a treated seed program that would: 1) clarify MDA’s authority to oversee the use of pesticide-coated seeds in the same way that it manages all other pesticide applications; 2) authorize MDA to work with the University of Minnesota on research, demonstration projects, and best management practices related to pesticide seed treatments; and 3) create a program for anyone who treats seed to be sold in Minnesota to report it to MDA.

The original language in SF 780 created a pollinator protection account to fund integrated pest management research, outreach, and education to reduce pollinator exposure to harmful pesticides.

Unfortunately, the omnibus bills that passed out of the Senate committees eliminated these pollinator proposals.

Even more concerning, new language in both bills could undermine MDA’s fundamental pesticide enforcement authority and ability to protect the health and livelihoods of communities across the state (lines 7.23-7.27 of SF 1674, and lines 14.28-14.30 of SF 780):

Label compliance. Unless explicitly required by the FIFRA [Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act], the [MDA] commissioner must not require an applicator to demonstrate label compliance or need prior to applying a pesticide.

Because the language is broadly written, the legal impact is not entirely clear. However, it may s trip the agency of its longstanding responsibility to ensure compliance with pesticide labels—the heart of Chapter 18B, the Pesticide Control chapter of Minnesota statute. For example, the language may be interpreted to prevent MDA from enforcing basic competency requirements for pesticide applicators or from denying applicator licenses to repeat violators. At the very least,this new language will encourage vigorous litigation against MDA in response to commonplace enforcement actions.

Apart from injecting confusion into MDA’s authority to ensure pesticide label compliance, this language also attacks a key component of MDA’s proposed plan for addressing harms to pollinators by eliminating MDA’s existing authority to require demonstration of need before an applicator uses a pesticide — thereby undermining protections for honey bees and other pollinators that contribute over $33 million to the state economy each year.

Not only is this language bad policy, it was inserted in a long delete-all amendment without a full read through—an apparent attempt to short circuit consideration of this critically important issue without discussion.

Thank you for your consideration. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Lex Horan, Organizer, Pesticide Action Network North America
651.245.1733, lex@panna.org

Erin Rupp, Founder, Pollinate Minnesota
612.245.6384, erin@pollinatemn.org

Dan Raichel, Staff Attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council
312.651.7910, draichel@nrdc.org

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