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New York Fails to Pass the Birds & Bees Protection Act

Widespread and wasteful use of neonicotinoid pesticides drives dramatic declines in bees and other pollinators, which threaten the production of crops like apples, the food security of millions of people, and the nation’s ecosystems. Neonics also contaminate water on a vast scale and are increasingly linked to countless other harms, including the disappearance of birds, the collapse of fisheries, and birth defects in white-tailed deer. Neonics extensively contaminate our bodies too, with a growing chorus of state health experts raising alarms about neonics’ risks to human health. Watch this short film for more information.

Maine and New Jersey have banned neonics for non-agricultural uses, and Europe has passed broad bans that include agricultural. New York came close this year to passing the Birds and Bees Protection Act, which would restrict neonic use in the state, both cosmetic and agricultural uses. After stalling in the Assembly in 2021, the bill passed there in April by a vote of 103-41—buoyed by a strong showing of health experts, advocates, farmers, and concerned New Yorkers at a September 2021 Assembly hearing. In the Senate, the bill made it all the way to the floor, where it had passed last year by a vote of 43-20. This year, however, the bill did not come up for a vote.

In the end, advocates won the argument that restrictions on uses of neonics—the most ecologically damaging pesticides since DDT and a growing concern for human health—are common sense. Ultimately, however, it appears that election-year concerns about passing a bill strongly opposed by the chemical industry prevailed.

Despite the setback, the need to rein in harmful neonic use remains undiminished. We’re heartened by the progress New York made this year—including an early 2022 announcement by the state Department of Environmental Conservation that it would make most outdoor neonic pesticides “restricted use” by 2023—and we hope to help move the ball even further next year. ("Restricted use" means only licensed pesticide applicators can use the pesticides, but that includes most landscaping companies, golf courses, and farms.)

Thank you to the NRDC for supporting the Birds & Bees Protection Act and for providing the information in this blog, including the following:

· Neonic exposure is linked to neurological damage and malformations of the developing human heart and brain—and CDC monitoring shows half the U.S. population has neonics in their bodies on any given day. Dozens of New York health experts have warned state leaders about neonics’ threats to New Yorkers’ health.

· State and federal water testing finds neonics extensively contaminate New York’s waters at levels expected to cause “ecosystem-wide damage,” and since most tests only look for 1 of 5 neonics used in New York, even these alarming results greatly underestimate the true extent of the problem.

· In-depth Cornell University research reveals that the neonic uses targeted by the bill—neonic-treated corn, soybean, and wheat seeds and non-agricultural lawn and garden uses—either don’t benefit users or are easily replaced with safer alternatives. These needless and harmful uses account for 80-90% of the neonics entering New York’s environment every year.

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