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Advocates say a Hochul veto of bee protection bill would sting

This stock images shows a honeybee on clover.
Chamois huntress
Adobe Stock
This stock images shows a honeybee on clover.

Saturday was World Honey Bee Day, and environmental groups in New York used the observance to urge Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign a bill passed by the Legislature that would ban a pesticide that studies link to bee die-off.

The holiday, held on the third Saturday in August every year, is an effort to remind people of the importance of honeybees as pollinators for human food sources. It also aims to draw awareness to the dangers that bees face, including hive die-offs, which studies have found are as high as 48% per year.

The bill, approved in the Senate and Assembly earlier this year, would ban the use of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, or neonics for short. The chemical is used to coat seeds, including corn and soybean seeds, to help farmers more easily control harmful pests.

Advocates of the measure, known as the Birds and Bees Protection Act, include Dan Raichel, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Pollinator Initiative. He said neonics are among the most potent pesticides ever created and are contributing to the decline of the honeybee population.

“We now know that their ecologically destructive impacts are likely worse than any class of pesticides since DDT,” Raichel said.

Hudson Valley beekeeper Peter Nelson said the losses are not sustainable.

“Neonics affect the bees’ nervous systems, reproduction and cognitive functions, which stresses and weakens honeybee colonies and makes them more susceptible to other pathogens and parasites,” Nelson said.

Raichel said 95% of the seed coatings leach into soil and water supplies, causing harm to otjher animals. He points to a May 2023 study by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which found that neonic usage is endangering over 200 species, including, potentially, humans.

“We see evidence of that vast contamination all over New York water supplies, and the bodies of New Yorkers,” said Raichel, who added a recent study found neonics in the bodies of over 95% of pregnant women tested in New York and four other states.

The European Union has already banned the pesticide.

State Senate sponsor Brad Hoylman-Sigal said if Hochul signs the measure, New York would be the first state in the U.S. to limit the use of neonics. He said with New York being a major agricultural producer, the change could “disrupt” the chemical pesticide industry.

“This is an issue of critical importance. I trust the governor recognizes the need to rein in these dangerous chemicals,” Hoylman-Sigal said. “And I implore her to sign the bill.”

The chemical industry and the state’s Farm Bureau oppose the ban. When the measure was passed in June, Farm Bureau President David Fisher said in a statement that eliminating neonics as seed coating would only lead to farmers having to spray crops with potentially harmful airborne pesticides.

In a video produced by the Farm Bureau, Geneseo farmer Brad Macauley of Merrimac Farms Inc. explained the pesticide’s benefits to growers.

“The reason we use neonicotinoids and other crop protectives are to safeguard us from having crop failures,” Macauley said in the video. “Products that we're using prior to neonicotinoids were very harmful to the farmer as well as some wildlife.”

The Farm Bureau points to a USDA study that finds that a type of mite, not neonics, is the biggest cause of honeybee colony die-off.

Some New York farmers, like Corinne Hansch, disagree. She and her family operate the organic Loving Mama Farm, near Amsterdam.

“Farmers like me, we rely upon insects — i.e., pollinators — for our fruiting crops, and our seed crops. Plus, we rely upon beneficial insects for pest control,” Hansch said. “To be brutally clear, without pollinators, we face living in a world without fruits or vegetables.”

Hochul does not normally comment on pending legislation. A spokesman, Avi Small, would say only that the governor “is reviewing the legislation.”

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.