Soapbox

Requiring pesticide warning labels won’t help bees

A bee works on a honeycomb at the Gene Brandi Apiary in Los Banos. California’s citrus industry is opposing a bill to require warning labels on insecticides that some say harm bees.
A bee works on a honeycomb at the Gene Brandi Apiary in Los Banos. California’s citrus industry is opposing a bill to require warning labels on insecticides that some say harm bees. Associated Press file

H.L. Mencken wrote, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” That’s certainly true on the topic of pollinators and pesticides.

We can only hope that California legislators who are considering Senate Bill 1282 will reflect on Mencken’s words before enacting an unnecessary and potentially disastrous “solution” to the problem of bee health.

SB 1282, which is to be heard Wednesday by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, is based on the assumption that neonicotinoid insecticides are the cause of declining honeybee populations. The bill would require any seed or plant treated with a neonic to include a warning label noting that it may harm bees. All neonic products, including those available in home and garden stores, must be reclassified as restricted-use products.

This bill threatens California’s $3 billion citrus industry. An invasive species, the Asian citrus psyllid, has devastated Florida’s citrus industry and is headed to our state. The primary means of keeping this pest out of California has been the use of neonics. Backyard citrus trees are a major source of infestation, and if consumers cannot use neonics, it puts our successful outreach program at risk.

Warning labels serve no purpose other than to needlessly frighten suppliers and consumers. There is no evidence that treated plants pose greater risks to bees, but they do tell consumers that their plant purchases are free of unwanted or destructive pests. SB 1282 denies homeowners the choice to purchase neonics and would force them to use older products that could pose more problems to bees and other beneficial insects.

Honeybee health is important. But activist groups are hijacking the issue to overrule scientific evidence in their quest to eliminate pesticides.

Multiple governmental and independent scientific reviews have concluded that neonics are not a major cause of poor bee colony health. Instead, they point to other factors, such as parasites, diseases and lack of forage. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation, working with the federal and Canadian regulators, recently completed a preliminary assessment of a common neonic used on many crops and plants that found no significant risks to bees for most uses.

Growers and beekeepers are working together to ensure that vital crop-protection products are used safely around bees. That’s why commercial citrus growers and beekeepers alike are against SB 1282. We need to protect bees and we need to protect crops. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Citrus is one commodity that does not require pollination, yet growers and beekeepers are working together to adapt farming practices to protect bees. Yes, we have a long way to go. But scientists, farmers and beekeepers are far more apt to address this crisis than the Legislature.

SB 1282 is not a solution. It’s just wrong.

Joel Nelsen is president and CEO of California Citrus Mutual, a trade association representing growers. He can be contacted at jnelsen@cacitrusmutual.com.

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