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Action needed to protect pollinators

Honeybee on a watermelon flower. (Photo by Stephen Ausmus, U.S. Department of Agriculture)

In the state of Minnesota, we have seen a significant decline in pollinators such as honeybees and butterflies. Absent greater actions taken by the Legislature and regulatory agencies, as well as partnership with agriculture and business, this alarming trend will continue and could potentially lead to grave consequences for our food supply. Studies are now showing a direct link between the use of pesticides and a drop in bee populations. With the honeybee responsible for much of the pollination worldwide, we need to act now.

Two years ago, Minnesota passed a seminal package of laws on pollinators. The first closed the door on companies selling plants using the label "pollinator friendly" if they had been treated with systemic neonicotinoids or "neonics." With more public awareness of the threats facing pollinators, consumers shouldn't be misled by whether or not a plant is harmful. Also enacted was a bill to compensate beekeepers for hives lost due to pesticide use.

Unfortunately though, last year the GOP allowed some of these protections to be rolled back. Particularly, deceptive advertising for pollinator-friendly plants and other nursery stock was allowed. This has a tremendously negative impact on pollinators. Under the new policy, essentially if a bee or butterfly is not instantly killed after touching the flower, it's okay to label the plant "pollinator friendly."

Incrementally, there are things we are able to do to protect these populations. Numerous attempts have been made over the last two years to forbid the planting or spraying of crops with neonics on state lands designated for habitat, such as lands purchased with proceeds from the Legacy Amendment or state lottery funds. While amendments to enact this policy have been offered on the House floor and in committee, unfortunately, these efforts have not yet been successful, having been blocked by the House GOP majority. Last year I introduced pollinator-friendly amendments that passed off the House floor but subsequently were removed from legislation in conference committee.

While it's important for us to pursue pollinator-friendly policy on a legislative level, this is an area where consumers are starting to demand action. We are starting to see a response from businesses. As chemical companies are trying to weaken pollinator-friendly policies, we are seeing a contrasting point of view from retailers. Many of them are phasing out plants treated with neonics entirely. Moreover, surveys show 60-75 percent of large growers are eliminating them, and large chemical companies manufacturing products for application on home gardens are starting to as well.

The effort to boost populations of bees and butterflies starts in our neighborhoods and communities. Just planting flowers in your garden can help out in this effort, as can letting dandelions grow. Many cities throughout Minnesota have also passed resolutions to become pollinator friendly by pledging to not use pesticides harmful to pollinators on land they own or manage.

Members of the public, state regulators and companies responsive to consumer demand are doing what they can to help out. Unfortunately, nearly every seed of planted corn still contains neonics, as do the vast majority of soybeans. Unavoidably, this is going to require strong legislation to curb these practices. While this will be a lengthy effort, I'm committed to moving us away from the use of harmful pesticides and toward policies protecting pollinators. Please help me save the bees.

Rep. Jennifer Schultz (DFL-Duluth) represents District 7A in the Minnesota House. She can be reached by phone at (651) 296-2228 or rep.jennifer.schultz@house.mn.

Jennifer Schultz

Rep. Jennifer Schultz DFL-Duluth represents District 7A in the Minnesota House. She can be reached at (651) 296-2228.

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