States Work to Save Pollinators Through Neonicotinoid Regulations

June 19, 2019



NCEL Point of Contact

Ruth Musgrave
Conservation Senior Advisor


Neonicotinoids are the most extensively used group of insecticides in the world. These insecticides can negatively affect the central nervous system of insects, causing disorientation, paralysis or death. While effective in deterring unwanted pests from crops, there is growing opposition to the use of neonicotinoids based on scientific findings connecting the pesticides to pollinator decline.  Numerous studies demonstrate that neonicotinoids pose a threat to bee populations in particular. These insecticides appear in products sold to homeowners for use in lawns and gardens, as well as in larger agricultural productions. Neonicotinoids are absorbed into plant tissue and pollen, and are later ingested by pollinators.

On May 20, the EPA announced that it is canceling the registrations of 12 products containing neonicotinoids as part of a legal settlement reached with the Center for Food Safety.  In the US, unless a pesticide is considered a “minimum risk pesticide” it must be registered with the EPA, which means it is evaluated to ensure it does not harm people, non-target species or the environment. Once a product’s registration is canceled by the EPA it is illegal for the pesticide to be sold or distributed.  This announcement coincides with a national movement among states to limit the use of neonicotinoids which have been shown to cause bees to struggle with simple navigation and experience reduced growth rates. This year alone, 10 states have introduced bills limiting the use of neonicotinoids. On May 28th, Vermont’s Governor signed H. 205 which classifies neonicotinoids as a “restricted use” pesticide, meaning they can only be purchased and used by state-licensed applicators.

Importance of Pollinators

Neonicotinoids are just one of many threats pollinators are facing. A pollinator is anything that helps move pollen from the stamen to the stigma of the same or different flower allowing for fertilization.  That being said, when discussing the importance of pollinators and the danger they face, we are usually focusing on bees. These pollinators are declining rapidly due to a number of factors, including loss of habitat, loss of forage and pesticides.

Pollinator decline is a serious issue because pollinators are critical for the world’s agriculture and are key factors in many ecosystems. Around 75% of the world’s crops depend on pollinators. Pollinators–mostly honey bees–are responsible for one in every three bites of food in the U.S., and increase national crop values by more than $15 billion a year. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, honey bees alone pollinate around $10 billion worth of crops in the US each year. In addition, pollinators have been found to support biodiversity in ecosystems.  Between 75% – 95% of all flowering plants in the world outside of agriculture rely on pollinators to spread and grow. This means that healthy and balanced ecosystems require pollinators.

What are states doing?

Restricting the use of neonicotinoids is not the catch-all solution to saving pollinators. However, there is growing evidence showing that these insecticides have negative impacts and that restricting their use would benefit pollinators. Due to this, many states view limiting neonicotinoids as an important part of their overall approach to protecting pollinators. As previously mentioned, 10 states introduced bills specifically limiting the use of neonicotinoids in 2019.

In 2019, 10 states were considering legislation to regulate or restrict neonicotinoids.

Below is a list of bills that have been enacted which restrict the use of neonicotinoids in one form or another:

Enacted State Legislation:

  • California (AB 1789 – 2014): Set a deadline of July 1, 2018 for the California Department of Pesticide Regulation’s reevaluation of the health and environmental threat of neonicotinoids which was started in 2009.
  • Minnesota (HF 2798 – 2014): Prohibits plants treated with neonics from being labeled or advertised as beneficial to pollinators.
  • Connecticut (SB 231 – 2016): Section 3 of this bill amends Section 22a-50 of the Connecticut General Statutes to classify neonicotinoids as “restricted use.”
  • Maryland (SB 198/HB 211 – 2016): Limits the sale of neonicotinoids to sellers who are already permitted to sell restricted use pesticides.  Also, it restricts the use of neonicotinoids to state certified applicators, farmers and veterinarians.
  • Vermont (H. 205 – 2019): Classifies neonicotinoids as a “restricted use” pesticide, meaning they can only be purchased and used by state-licensed applicators.