Advocates are working to sway Gov. Kathy Hochul in opposite directions on signing legislation to ban the sale of seeds pretreated with certain pesticides deadly to birds, bees and other pollinators.
The legislation, named the Birds and Bees Protection Act, has ranked among farmers' top concerns since the legislative session ended in June, with the New York Farm Bureau and others in the agricultural industry urging Hochul to veto the measure.
If signed into law, corn, wheat, soy and other seeds pretreated with neonicotinoid pesticides — most commonly called "neonics" — would all but become a thing of the past in the state.
"It's another attempt to whittle away at the pest protections that farmers have every season," said Jeff Williams, NY Farm Bureau's director of public policy.
But advocates and organic farmers in favor aren't backing down — citing concerns with the risk to natural habitats and public health. Neonics make up some of the world's most popular and potent insecticides, and are pushing 200 endangered species toward extinction, or about 11% of the endangered species list, according to a May assessment by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"Neonics are neurotoxic pesticides known for driving mass loss of bees and other pollinators in New York and across the globe," said Dan Raichel, acting director of the Pollinator Initiative for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "But we now know that their ecologically destructive impacts are likely worse than any class of pesticides since DDT."
Neonic insecticides are often used for indoor insect control, to maintain golf course turf, in pet products, greenhouses, ornamental and to control invasive species.
Critics of the proposal to ban the sale of seeds pretreated with the chemicals argue it would undermine state agencies as the state Department of Environmental Conservation already regulates pesticides in partnership with ongoing EPA safety evaluations.
"It's not the role of the Legislature to do that, who aren't scientists," Williams said. "They regulate the active ingredient on those seeds so they could go back and study and outlaw it if they wanted to if they thought there were a real, real issue with it. That's the proper mechanism to do this."
He said the Legislature should not interfere with the DEC's regulation of pesticides, and power to determine their impacts on the environment and public safety.
Representatives with the DEC on Tuesday pointed to the department's recent review and action to restrict the use of neonics and protect pollinator populations. As of Jan. 1, the DEC reclassified many outdoor neonicotinoid pesticides from general use to restricted use.
Commercial application of pesticides is reported to the DEC, but the department does not receive residential use and general consumer sales information.
Farmers have expressed concerns the proposed ban would erode pest protections if it became law, and would force them to return to spraying gallons of the pesticide in the air — still permitted under the measure.
"We're talking a shot glass of pesticide per acre with the seed treatment to gallons of pesticide per acre with a foliar application, which is still allowed," Williams added.
Other advocates, meanwhile, are buzzing with urgency for Hochul to sign the bill, saying it will protect against significant losses of birds, pollinators and aquatic ecosystems.
Studies also show a tie between neonics and increasing chemical exposure in pregnant women and neurological impacts on children.
Sponsor Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, a Manhattan Democrat, says the law would eliminate up to 90% of neonics entering New York's environment.
"It's no wonder that Europe has banned these chemicals in agriculture since 2018," he said Tuesday. "New York state can literally disrupt the pesticide and chemical industry with this legislation and provide the safe alternatives to neonicotinoids that are necessary."
But Hochul vetoed legislation last year that would have allowed municipalities to regulate the use of pesticides on local wetlands. The governor cited the DEC's regulatory role and its pesticide program she called "one of the most rigorous in the country."
Hoylman-Sigal has met with the governor's staff, and is hopeful she'll sign the bill.
"I hope she has seen the light that this issue is only growing in importance and we have seen documented evidence of the impacts of neonicotinoids on pollinators," he said.
It's possible the governor could veto the bill and request the DEC study and further regulate neonic-treated seeds.
The legislation has guardrails, the senator says, to allow the governor and DEC to negotiate the details.
"We have gotten to a place that we think both industry, environmentalists and policymakers can be comfortable with," Hoylman-Sigal said.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation does not comment on pending legislation.
Hochul continues to review the bill.