Policy on Neonicotinoid Pesticides

A closer look into the policy on neonics in the United States.

The recent substantial rise in Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has garnered media and policy attention alike, particularly in the last few years. Many cities and municipalities have heeded the potential warnings of neonicotinoids as the cause, effectively banning their use on public property. In this next section, I will provide a discussion of policy and/or legislative action that has been implemented to ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. The cities discussed below are the cities that have implemented these types of policy.

Eugene was the first city in Oregon and in the United States to ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in June 2013. Eugene’s ban temporarily restricts the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on all city property. The ban was in response to the overall drastic decline in the bee population in Oregon, and specifically to a massive bee die-off during a spraying in a Target parking lot in Wilsonville, Oregon that resulted in the death of some 50,000 bees[1]. Eugene (and other cities who have enacted the ban) stress that while this massive die-off is concerning, it is by no means the only incident. Proponents of the ban argue that it is not only massive sprayings like the one occurring in the Target parking lot in Eugene, but the consistent use of lower level pesticides (personally, publically and commercially) that contain neonicotinoids as well. Vera Krischik, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota, is a prominent voice in this cause. Krischik asserts a connection between neonics and pollinators’ decline. She establishes that only 10 parts per billion (ppb) levels induce the impacts onto bees, “research also shows that neonicotinoids can have multiple sublethal effects on bees, including disorientation, effects on learning and a reduction in pollen collection and storage. [2]

In Portland, Oregon, the city council called an emergency vote that called to ban the use of neonicotinoids until further evaluation has been done on their effects on pollinators. The ban was put in place in March 2015. The city council voted unanimously to enact the ban immediately. The ordinance applies to most public land in Portland and also stresses the importance of retailers labeling their products that contain these pesticides. Portland’s immediate application of the ordinance was motivated by the bee death mentioned earlier that took place in Wilsonville, Oregon when some 50,000 bees died after a massive spraying of neonicotinoids.[3] Lori Ann Burd, the Director of Environmental Health for the Center for Biological Diversity explained that it is not just these massive potent sprayings that are harmful to the bees; less potent exposure is just as harmful, “Bees who are exposed to even tiny levels experience hits to the neurological function…. They can’t find their way back to the hive, they have less foraging success, they can’t communicate effectively, and they can’t fight off wasps. Those impacts are really significant on the population scale.”[4]

The massive bee die offs in Oregon, along with the urgently passed legislation in response, sparked the state of Oregon’s launch of a statewide task force to look more closely into not only preventative measures for pollinators, but also possible ways to protect them.

Neonics can also potentially be harmful to bees and other pollinators before a spray, as they are often included in nursery plants and seeds. Friends of the Earth, an environmental activist organization, conducted a study to closer examine these effects. This is the first study of its kind, as many studies don’t consider the harmfulness level of those plants and seeds labeled as ‘bee-friendly.’ Friends of the Earth’s study concluded in part that,

The findings indicate that bee-friendly nursery plants sold at U.S. retailers may contain systemic pesticides at levels that are high enough to cause adverse effects on bees and other pollinators — with no warning to consumers…. The high percentage of contaminated plants [54%] and their neonicotinoid concentrations suggest that this problem is widespread, and that many home gardens have likely become a source of exposure for bees.

This study shows the extent to which neonicotinoid pesticides can affect the surrounding environment beyond the traditional use of a massive spraying. It also serves as an important example of how common the use of neonics is, even when consumers are unaware of their presence. Marketing plants as ‘bee friendly’ just because they haven’t been sprayed with neonicotinoids is something some cities want to prevent. More on the extent of the use of neonics will be discussed during Chapter 2, in the actual application of the risk assessment I develop in order to evaluate the use of these systemic pesticides.


Another city that has been taking legislative strides to prevent the use of neonics is Spokane, Washington. Spokane placed a ban on the use of neonics in June 2014, following Eugene’s lead. Spokane’s ban stemmed from similar motivations as a reaction to the massive bee die-off that occurred in Wilsonville, OR in 2013. The ban in similar in nature to the Portland and Eugene bans in that it prohibits the use of neonics on public property, but does not extend to privately owned property. The restricted use of neonicotinoids accounts for approximately 30% of Spokane.[5]

            Seattle followed Spokane only a few months later, enacting a moratorium in September 2014 in a unanimous vote.[6] The moratorium, like those passed in the Oregon cities and Spokane, applies to all city property in Seattle. Seattle differs, however, because it is a moratorium rather than a ban, so it is temporary in nature. The moratorium is in place until more evidence is collected on the exact nature of the effects of neonics. Through their action, Seattle has also called for a national moratorium on the use of the pesticides, pleading that the White House Task Force, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Congress place a similar moratorium on use of neonicotinoids. Along with encouraging federal action, the resolution asks retailers within Seattle to stop selling plants, seeds or any other products that contains neonicotinoids.”[7] While the discussion of alternative pest management programs is outside of the scope of this thesis, it remains important to consider the types of affects that these bans would have on a national level. More on this is discussed in Chapter 2, particularly in terms of Criterion 5.

Some municipalities outside the Pacific Northwest are making changes, too. Stillwater, Lake Elmo, Saint Louis Park, and Shorewood, Minnesota have enacted some type of ban or moratorium. Further, the entire state of Minnesota is currently (starting in 2013) considering a statewide ban of the chemicals. If the statewide legislative action takes place, Minnesota would be the first state to take this action. In 2013, Minnesota passed a bill prohibiting plants grown with the use of ‘detectable levels’ of neonics to be labeled as ‘bee-friendly’. The decision was in response to public concern, and the legislature hopes to encourage consumers to purchase garden and household plants with the pollinators in mind.[8]

Other municipalities that have taken legislative action against the public use of neonicotinoids are Ogunquit, Maine, Skagway, Alaska, Sacramento and Encinitas, California, and Boulder, Colorado.

Encinitas, California banned the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on all city property in September 2014 in response to public concern about the environment and massive loss to local beekeepers (as much as 42 percent of their colonies[9]), so the Department of Parks and Recreation banned their use. Encinitas takes the use of pesticides so seriously that they are even implementing a trial of a park in the city that is completely pesticide free, and if successful, the program could be implemented citywide.[10] Sacramento has a similar ban on the use of neonicotinoids on city property.

The ban of pesticides in the municipality of Skagway, Alaska is the first ban in the state. This ban seems to go the furthest, by banning the sale and use of pesticides containing neonicotinoids on both public and private land. Ordinance 14-15 was passed in September 2014, and has what seem to be the most stringent guidelines.[11]

Ogunquit, Maine is thus far the only state on the East Coast that has taken a proactive stance on the use of neonicotinoids, passing the ban in November 2014. Maine has been a national pioneer in organic farming practices and apprehensive toward the overuse of pesticides for decades.[12]

The potential connection between the use of neonics and Colony Collapse Disorder has also garnered the attention of those making changes on a regional level. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System is in the process of eliminating the use of neonicotinoids.[13] The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System is the first federal entity to take this stand on the use of neonics. The plan calls for a complete disposal of the use of all neonicotinoids and the use of genetically modified crops by January 2016 in the entire Pacific Region[14]. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System is responsible for 150 million acres of protected land throughout the country, specifically in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington—all of which will be protected from neonicotinoids.


Another federal initiative was initially proposed by Congressmen Earl Blumenauer in 2013, The Save America’s Pollinators Act of 2013. This bill is a call for Oregon and the rest of the country to ban the use of neonics. The Save America’s Pollinator’s Act of 2013 aimed to accomplish the ban primarily through a demand that the Environmental Protection Agency (at least temporarily) no longer allow the use of neonicotinoids,

Saving America’s Pollinators Act of 2013 – Requires the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to suspend the registration of imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam, dinotafuran, and any other members of the nitro group of neonicotinoid insecticides to the extent such insecticide is registered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) for use in seed treatment, soil application, or foliar treatment on bee attractive plants, trees, and cereals until the Administrator has made a determination that such insecticide will not cause unreasonable adverse effects on pollinators.

Blumenauer’s motivation and Congress’ support for this legislation rests on several primary observations about the harmfulness of neonics. Please see the appendix for an excerpt of the official bill, HR 1284, that highlights many of the reasons and concerns. [15]

This bill showcases the level of attention that the connection neonics and their potential effects on pollinator population have been garnering – up to the federal level. Not only does the legislation call for at least a temporary suspension of registration of neonics, but even when regular rules are put back in place there must exist regular monitoring to constantly check the levels, effects, and uses of these types of pesticides. This is potentially an important addition to the bill because often times pesticides are approved for registration once and then not checked again for decades.

Pollinators in Court

Neonicotinoid pesticides have also been at issue in recent federal regulation in the United States. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned the EPA’s approval of Sulfoxaflor, a type of neonicotinoid. The pesticide was approved in 2013 after an initial call for additional studies was rerouted to approval with minimal further restrictions added in application guidelines[16]. Initially, the pesticide was denied because of the potential detrimental effects on pollinators.

            These policy regulations on neonic pesticides beg the question: are they justified? Moreover, for every city that has adopted some type of policy regulation on the use of neonics, there are hundreds that have not. The divide on whether to implement such policies rests in the question of evidence. This lack of evidentiary certainty leads to a main question: what sort of guidelines are there for policymaking in the face of evidentiary uncertainty?

Sources Cited
[1] Xerces. 2013. Scientists Call for an End to Cosmetic Insecticide Use After the Largest Bumble Bee Poisoning on Record. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. http://www.xerces. org/2013/06/27/scientists-call-for-an-end-to-cosmetic-insecticide-use-after-the-largest-bumble- bee-poisoning-on-record/


[2]Krischik, Vera. "Protecting bees and beneficial insects from systemic insecticides applied in landscapes." University of Minnesota Extension. University of Minnesota, 24 July 2014. Web. 21 Aug. 2015. <http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/plant-nursery-health/protecting-bees-beneficial-insects-systemic-insecticides/docs/protecting-bees-from-insecticides.pdf>.
[3] House, Kelly. "Oregon Bans the Use of Bee-Killing Insecticides on Linden Trees." The Oregonian, February 27, 2015. http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2015/02/oregon_bans_use_of_bee-killing.html.
[4] House, Kelly. "Oregon Bans the Use of Bee-Killing Insecticides on Linden Trees." The Oregonian, February 27, 2015. http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2015/02/oregon_bans_use_of_bee-killing.html.
[5] Geranios, Nicholas K. "Spokane Bans Chemical That May Kill Bees." The Seattle Times, July 4, 2014. http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/spokane-bans-chemical-that-may-kill-bees/.


[6] O'Brien, Councilmember. Seattle Council Connection. http://council.seattle.gov/2014/09/25/council-bans-neonicotinoid-pesticides-on-city-land-2/.
[7] "Seattle Joins the Growing List of Cities to Ban Bee-Killing Pesticides." Organic Consumers, September 2014. https://www.organicconsumers.org/news/seattle-joins-growing-list-cities-ban-bee-killing-pesticides.
[8] "Minnesota Passes Bill to Label Garden Plants for Pollinators." Beyond Pesticides: Daily News Blog, May 21, 2014. http://beyondpesticides.org/dailynewsblog/2014/05/minnesota-passes-bill-to-label-garden-plants-for-pollinators/.
[9] Whitlock, Jared. "Encinitas to Test Pesticide-Free Park." Encinitas Advocate, June 15, 2015. http://www.encinitasadvocate.com/news/2015/jun/15/encinitas-pesticide-parks-bees/.
[10] Whitlock, Jared. "Encinitas to Test Pesticide-Free Park." Encinitas Advocate, June 15, 2015. http://www.encinitasadvocate.com/news/2015/jun/15/encinitas-pesticide-parks-bees/.
[11] "Garden City of Alaska” Passes Comprehensive Pesticide Ordinance, Bans Bee-Toxic Pesticides." Beyond Pesticides: Daily News Blog, September 25, 2014. http://beyondpesticides.org/dailynewsblog/2014/09/garden-city-of-alaska-passes-comprehensive-pesticide-ordinance-bans-bee-toxic-pesticides/.
[12] Wright, Virginia M. "Ogunquit Leads the Way." Down East: The Magazine of Maine, November 2014. http://downeast.com/ogunquit-leads-the-way/.
[13] Woody, Todd. "The U.S. Bans GMOs, Bee-Killing Pesticides in All Wildlife Refuges." TakePart, July 2014. http://www.takepart.com/article/2014/07/31/us-bans-gmos-bee-killing-pesticides-national-wildlife-refuges.
[14] Sarich, Christina. "Win! U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to Ban Use of Bee, Bird and Butterfly-Killing Neonicotinoids." Nation of Change, July 29, 2014. http://www.nationofchange.org/win-us-fish-wildlife-service-ban-use-bee-bird-and-butterfly-killing-neonicotinoids-1406642902.
[15] See Appendix, HR 1284
[16] "Petitioners v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency." United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit: Case 13-72346, September 2015 http://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/files/sulfoxaflor-opinion.pdf.

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