June 7, 2023 | 5:13 pm
New York is on the verge of making a big mistake by banning a class of pesticides critical to farmers.
Lawmakers, misled by environmental activists, are preparing to pass the inappropriately named Birds and Bees Protection Act this week, which would prevent growers from accessing neonicotinoids, some of thesaferpesticides, thanks in part to their innovative way of applying them through seed coatings rather than spraying.
To make the bill less toxic, lawmakers changed it to allow sales of neon on a product-by-product basis if the state Department of Environmental Conservation provides a written justification for emergency use each year.
But this solution will end in disaster for New York farmers and the food system.
How can I predict this?
An identical scenario has been unfolding in Europe for five years.
Spoiler alert: This saga ended badly for farmers, birds, bees, consumers and the environment and the same would be true in New York.
Just as politicians influenced by state activists are trying to do, the European Commission in 2018 banned neonicotinoids except for authorized emergency uses (aka waivers).
Anti-pesticide campaigners have spread fear of the bee-pocalypse among the public, and Green Party members have worked together to introduce anti-pesticide legislation.
These pesticide waivers were a lifeline for many growers, as there were no other options to stop some pests.
Sugar beet farmers have been among those most devastated by the neon ban.
By 2020, farmers in 10 EU countries have applied for and received 21 waivers to protect their sugar beet crops from aphids that spread yellow beet virus, a pest that has decimated up to 80% of crops .
But European anti-pesticide activists weren’t satisfied, just as New York’s won’t be.
Passed the first exceptions and without any regard for the consequences they filed a lawsuit to cancel them.
The Court of Justice of the European Union, the highest court in the EU, ruled in favor of the activists this year and made neon waivers illegal.
Predictably, the European sugar industry is in serious trouble.
Beet weevils are the plague of the day that only neons can stop.
So far they have destroyed 40,000 acres and 60,000 tons of sugar in Austria alone.
Some growers have simply stopped growing sugar beets altogether.
Sugar giant Tereos has driven another nail in the coffin by announcing it will close its sugar refinery operations in France, cutting jobs.
A warning to New York’s agricultural industry: Your crops and livelihoods will also be threatened when the waivers end.
Ironically, bees don’t pollinate sugar beet plants. They are wind-pollinated, like many of New York’s major crops, including corn, wheat, and potatoes.
Other important state horticultural crops, such as tomatoes and peppers, are self-pollinated.
Thus, the Birds and Bees Protection Act will protect bees from pesticide exposure on crops they don’t even bother to visit.
Growers in Europe thatDonethey have alternatives to simply spraying more pesticides usually older and less environmentally friendly chemicals.
After the neon ban, they sprayed 1.145 million more pesticides per season on bees, birds and the rest of the environment.
The same will happen in New York.
Instead of coating seeds with small amounts of pesticides and burying them in the ground where birds and bees can’t touch them, farmers will be forced to spray more pesticides indiscriminately above ground.
These are complicated scientific questions. We need regulatory agencies like the state Department of Environmental Conservation to make decisions about pesticides, not politicians or activists lobbying them.
DEC has the scientific expertise; and so far, together with the US Environmental Protection Agency and many other regulatory agencies around the world, has determined that neonics are safe for farmers.
Neonicotinoids are not a major cause of bee deaths. Experts agree that varroa mites and the many diseases they spread in the hive are the main threat to bees.
Since neonicotinoids were first used in the mid-1990s, honey bee populations have grown by 51,000 colonies in America and there are nearly 21 million more hives in the world than in 2000.
Let this sordid and expensive drama stay in Europe.
New York policymakers should let the state’s qualified environmental regulators make the decisions.
Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is Glenn Swogger’s distinguished colleague at the American Council on Science and Health. He was the founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology.
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