Neonic ban would be disruptive, expert says

A bee pollinates blueberry flowers in this file photo. Oregon legislators have introduced bills restricting the use of certain pesticides to protect bees and other wildlife.

SALEM — A pesticide expert has warned Oregon lawmakers that legislation proposing to ban neonicotinoids could prompt a return to more toxic chemicals among farmers.

Neonicotinoid pesticides were blamed for pollinator die-offs in Oregon and critics say the chemicals also have sublethal effects that are responsible for poor bee health.

House Bill 2589 would prohibit the application of “nitro-group” neonicotinoids, including clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, but the Oregon Department of Agriculture could make exemptions to the ban in “unusual circumstances.”

Paul Jepson, director of Oregon State University’s Integrated Plant Protection Center, said a “blanket ban” could disrupt farmers’ transition to more environmentally gentle methods of controlling pests.

Growers have relied on neonicotinoids as they’ve used fewer broad-spectrum organophosphate pesticides in recent years, but may take up the older chemicals if the ban is approved, Jepson said during a March 26 hearing on multiple pesticide bills being considered by the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.

While neonicotinoids can pose a problem for pollinators, such risks can be managed effectively, he said.

Farmers in Oregon have a history of responding to such hazards and state and federal regulators are being diligent in regulating neonicotinoids, he said.

Over time, farmers can transition from broad-spectrum pesticides to more pest-specific techniques, such as encouraging predatory insects, Jepson said. “It sounds slightly airy-fairy, but believe me, it isn’t.”

Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, said he introduced HB 2589 due to concerns that neonicotinoids are affecting not only pollinators but other insects and birds.

Though there are studies to support arguments for and against banning neonicotinoids, research generally indicates the pesticides are harmful, he said.

Holvey noted that in 2013, the European Commission — a governing body of the European Union — voted to restrict three neonicotinoids: clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam.

“We need to take precautionary measures to ensure the sustainability of our environment,” he said.

Aside from the neonicotinoid ban, Holvey has sponsored other pesticide legislation that’s being reviewed by the committee: House Bill 3123, which would ban aerial applications except during emergencies declared by state regulators, and House Bill 3482, which would require pesticide applications to be reported to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

During the hearing, Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, spoke about several bills he has introduced:

• House Bill 3428 would create new certification requirements for aerial pesticide applicators.

• House Bill 3434 would appropriate money — likely about $2 million — for three new pesticide investigators and a claims processor at ODA.

• House Bill 3429 would establish standard operating procedures for state agencies to handle pesticide complaints.

• House Bill 3430 would create a telephone hotline for people concerned about pesticide misuse.

The committee ran out of time during the March 25 hearing, so further discussion of the proposed legislation was carried over until a future date.

Committee Chair Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, said he plans to hold a work group to distill the proposals into a concise piece of legislation to be introduced in April.

Witt urged testimony to focus on peer-reviewed science and “best practices” that would promote environmental and economic health.

“We are on a problem solving mission rather than a description of the problem,” he said.

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