On June 12, 2024

Override Scott’s veto to protect pollinator, ecosystem, public health

Dear Editor,

In the peaceful farmlands and meadows of Vermont, a silent emergency unfolds. Bees, the heart of our agricultural ecosystem, face unprecedented threats to their survival. Despite Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Market reports claiming that bee populations are thriving, beekeepers around the state emphasize the deteriorating health of their colonies. These adverse health outcomes can be attributed to neonicotinoid pesticides, a class of insecticides that are highly toxic to bees and other pollinators. They attack both the nervous and immune systems of the bee, subjecting them to disorientation, paralyzation, and disease. In 2023, the Environmental Protection Agency predicted that these chemicals are currently driving over 200 species toward extinction. Recent research from the Vermont Bee Lab has uncovered alarming truths: over 30% of the state’s pollen samples collected contained traces of neonicotinoids.

On May 20, ironically falling on World Bee Day, Governor Phil Scott vetoed H.706, a bill proposing to ban these harmful insecticides in Vermont. On June 17, legislators will have the chance to override Scott’s decision with a two-thirds majority in favor of the bill. As legislators weigh the fate of H.706, it is imperative to recognize its potential to safeguard our pollinators, human health, the millions of dollars in ecosystem services they provide, and preserve our agricultural heritage.

The collateral damage inflicted upon honeybee colonies by these pesticides is not just an environmental concern but a direct threat to livelihoods and food security. Bees are a keystone species, meaning their health and role in the ecosystem are imperative. The decline of bee health and productivity echoes across our agricultural landscape, jeopardizing crop yields and ecosystem health.

Furthermore, humans can be exposed to neonicotinoids through environmental contamination. Runoff of these chemicals can infiltrate groundwater and surface water supplies and subsequently end up in human water sources. Neonicotinoids are linked to potential effects on human health, negatively impacting the nervous system, reproductive health, and childhood development. The inability of neurons to properly migrate is one cause of neurological disorders. Neonicotinoids decrease neurogenesis, which means neonicotinoid pesticides harm the growth of brain tissue. Thus, children’s developing brains are more susceptible to the effects of environmental toxins, therefore holding negative implementations for their futures. These chemicals pose a possible public health threat that cannot be ignored.

Critics of the bill, including Scott, argue it will create new hardships for farmers and place them at a competitive disadvantage over farmers from other states that allow these insecticides. However, the economic risk of inaction may outweigh the challenges of adjusting to the bill, considering the crucial role of pollinators in our agricultural system. Furthermore, the exemptions proposed in the bill work with farmers who face immediate pest pressures as they transition to more sustainable agricultural alternatives. Past the economics, we must not overlook ecosystem health, human well-being, and agricultural sustainability in favor of short-term agricultural convenience.

The time for action is now. The European Commission, the provinces of Quebec and Ontario, and the state of New York have already placed significant bans on neonicotinoids, and it is time for Vermont to follow suit. This ban across several regions highlights the recognized harm that neonicotinoid pesticides have, even though they are legal in the United States.

As legislators deliberate about H.706, they must look to science and the future. The bill holds critical implications for Vermont’s pollinators, a decision whose impact will be felt for many generations. Vermont has the chance to stand on the right side of history, joining other governments in pioneering this essential aspect of environmental stewardship and inspiring others to adopt similar laws. For the sake of the bees, farmers, and the resilience of Vermont’s natural heritage, legislature support for this bill is imperative.

Madilyn Sandy, Jericho

Editor’s note: Sandy is a senior at Vassar College double majoring in environmental studies and science, technology, and society on a pre-law track. She is currently interning with CleanEarth4Kids.org, a company that fights for environmental health issues, and consulted with staff members for this letter.

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