Legislature to override DEC with pesticide ban

The state Assembly is ready to take treated seeds off the market in New York — a step both the federal EPA and state DEC haven’t been ready to take.

Assembly members passed the Birds and Bees Protection Act recently in a 100-49, largely party line vote. A.3226/S.1856 would prohibit, starting Jan. 1, 2026, the sale, distribution or purchase by any person within the state of corn, soybean or wheat seeds coated or treated with neonicotinoids, a class fo insecticides that have been formulated to control harmful agricultural pest infestations on many crops grown in New York. Specifically, the Birds and Bees Protection Act would ban pesticides with the active ingredients clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, dinotefuran, or acetamiprid as well as prohibit the application or treatment of outdoor ornamental plants and turf, except for the production of agricultural commodities, with a pesticide containing the active ingredients imidacloprid, thiamethoxam or acetamiprid on or after July 1, 2025; and, the active ingredients clothianidin or dinotefuran effective immediately unless the DEC justifies their use with a detailed written order that a valid environmental emergency exists, that the pesticide is effective addressing the problem and no other, less harmful pesticide or practice can address the emergency.

This is the second consecutive year the Birds and Bees Protection Act has passed the Assembly, but it did not pass the Senate in 2021-22. Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, was among the 49 Assembly members to vote against the bill and said the state should listen to both the EPA and the DEC, either of which can ban the use of treated seeds at any time without additional legislative approval.

“So, as has been discussed, this bill was introduced five years ago in 2018 and since then the U.S. EPA has come out with guidelines and restrictions,” Goodell said. “That occurred in 2020. The bill sponsor didn’t identify any particularized concerns over the restriction’s shortfalls. Just a few months ago our own DEC came out with their own guidelines and restrictions and, as the sponsor noted, the DEC absolutely has the authority to ban this. So we have new restrictions that have come into play by the experts at the EPA and the scientists at the DEC and they’re relatively recent, yet we are being asked as legislators with no scientific expertise on our own to override the DEC and the EPA and to ignore the restrictions even though every one of us in this chamber would acknowledge that we don’t know the results of what’s going to happen. And every one of us would acknowledge that these administrative agencies have the power to act based on their scieitnfic c expertise.”

The legislation (A.3226) is opposed by the New York Farm Bureau, which says treated seeds are highly regulated, just as foliar and soil-applied pesticides are, or any other pesticide approved for certain uses by the EPA and DEC and that a prohibition on the use of these products would force farmers to revert to using older, less safe products on a more frequent basis. The DEC reclassified the use of neonicotinoids effective Jan. 1, 2023, so they are no longer available over the counter. But the DEC is allowing them to be used in targeted instances by qualified professional applicators and are only available for sale to certified applicators.

Goodell and Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, D-New York City, debated a Cornell University study that Glick says indicates the routine use of neonicotinoid-treated seeds “does not consistently increase net income for New York field corn or soybean producers” or net income compared to untreated seeds. At the same time, Glick said, the study found widespread use of neonicotinoid-treated seeds incurs risks for insect pollinators.

“So we are saying the bill also calls for a continued study by DEC, Agriculture and Markets, SUNY EFS and Cornell in order to continue with what have been perhaps some inconsistencies in the study results,” Glick said. “So we’re also looking at those studies, that were over 1,000 studies from other jurisdictions, where they have already taken the step to ban these compounds. We have a horizon. It doesn’t ban it today, although DEC could turn around and decide that the information they have garnered in the last two years leads them to believe they should ban it at the end of this year. So we ask them to continue with their studies and we do not have this prohibition on these treated seeds for specific crops until January of 2026, so I don’t think it’s a rush to the door. I think it is based on our concern that these neurotoxins are impacting other non-target species and are problemmatic in the environment.”

Goodell countered that honeybee populations are rebounding in New York state and across the nation after the Colony Collapse Disorder noted in the mid 2010s while the Cornell University study showed crop loss due to pests on untreated crops can be substantial. Farm Bureau officials note many farmers count on bees and other pollinators to grow their crops, often planting thousands of acres of wildflowers around their crops to attract pollinators and often engaging in beekeeping themselves to do their part to foster pollinator populations. The Senate version of the bill has not yet advanced out of committee.

“Over and over today I’ve heard these are neurotoxins,” Goodell said. “Yes. they are designed to kill insects. We’re not feeding insects a nutritious, organic insect food. But this insecticide is applied in such a miniscule amount, it is just applied on the seed itself. It’s not even applied on the plant. Over and over again we’ve heard the phrase, ‘Let’s follow the science.’ Let’s acknowledge the expertise of others. And indeed today we should follow the science. We should acknowledge the expertise in our own Agriculture and Market agency and acknowledge the expertise in the DEC and we should acknowleg they don’t need us to second guess them legislatively at tremendous risk to our agriculture industry.”


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