SACRAMENTO – Given the staggering decline of honey bees in California, Senators Mark Leno and Ben Allen have introduced legislation that would protect pollinators against toxic pesticides that are contributing to bee colony collapse. Senate Bill 1282 informs retail consumers about plants and seeds that have been treated with neonicotinoid pesticides and makes the chemicals available for use only by trained professionals.
“Bees pollinate more than a third of the world’s food supply,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. “Their decline poses a serious threat to our food supply, the viability of agriculture, the livelihoods of beekeepers and the sustainability of our environment. We can reverse this trend by our policy decisions.”
“Many well intended customers buying bee-attractive plants at their neighborhood nurseries are unknowingly exposing wild bees to harmful chemicals,” said Senator Allen, D-Santa Monica. “We can help reduce the risk to bees by informing consumers about the harm these pesticides present to beneficial insects.”
Last month, an agency within the United Nations published a comprehensive report on the global decline of pollinators, including bees. The report made a variety of recommendations to safeguard them, including reducing their exposure to pesticides.
SB 1282, the Pollinator Protection Act, takes a two-pronged approach to reducing bees’ exposure to toxic neonicotinoid pesticides. The bill requires labeling of all retail plants and seeds that have been pre-treated with neonicotinoids, indicating that the products can harm bees. The bill also ensures that these pesticides are available for sale only to certified applicators, farmers, or veterinarians, which will prevent overexposure and overuse by people who are not properly trained. The bill is sponsored by Bee Smart California, a coalition of food, farming and beekeeping organizations.
Bees are declining at an alarming rate nationwide. Last year, California beekeepers lost nearly 40 percent of their hives, a rate that was twice the national average. In addition, wild bee populations have declined 23 percent between 2003 and 2008 in the Central Valley and other important agricultural regions of the nation. In 2014, the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides determined that neonicotinoid pesticides are a key factor in colony decline. The chemicals kill some bees outright, but also impair their ability to communicate, navigate and reproduce.
"Bees play a critical role in supporting farms like ours,” said Rose Marie Burroughs, an almond farmer in the San Joaquin Valley. “We must take steps to protect them from harmful pesticides and strengthen their populations, including planting biodiverse and beneficial hedgerows."
"Wild bees are often forgotten but critical pollinators in our food system and natural ecosystems, from backyard gardens to large-scale orchards and California’s iconic landscapes,” said Claire Kremen, a professor of conservation biology at UC-Berkeley and faculty director of the Berkeley Food Institute. “This bill can help pollinators by letting backyard gardeners know when seeds or plants they purchase might inadvertently deliver pesticides to beneficial insects.”
A survey of bee-attractive plants purchased at home and garden retailers across the country found that more than half contained levels of neonicotinoids at levels that could kill bees outright. Consumers also often overuse the chemicals, which may be applied at a rate 120 times higher than what is approved for agricultural uses.
"Widespread pre-treating or pre-coating of plants and seeds with pesticides is increasing at an alarming rate, which unfortunately mirrors the death rate of my honeybee colonies," said Jeff Anderson, a commercial beekeeper and owner of California-Minnesota Honey Farms in Oakdale.
SB 1282 will be heard in policy committees in the Senate this spring.