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Scott vetoes pesticide ban, citing impact on farmers

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(The Center Square) — Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has vetoed a proposal to restrict the use of toxic pesticides for agriculture, saying it would hurt the state’s farmers.

The proposal, approved by the Democratic-controlled state Legislature, called for banning neonic-treated seeds of corn, soybean, wheat and rice and outdoor uses on soybeans, cereal grains and ornamental plants.

Democrats who approved the measure argue that removing a pesticide that some studies have linked to a reduction in bees and other pollinators will improve public health and the environment.

But Scott said the ban is unnecessary, based on recent scientific studies, and would put Vermont farmers at a significant disadvantage as they struggle with the impact of higher taxes, energy prices, crop losses associated with last year’s spring frost, and summer and winter floods.

“Pollinators are essential to growing food and maintaining a healthy, thriving ecosystem,” the Republican said in his veto message. “The same is true of farmers, who are also critical contributors to our economy, but altogether, this legislation is more anti-farmer than it is pro-pollinator.”

Scott pointed out that the honeybee population has grown nationally, and even the use of neonics has persisted. He cited data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showing that Vermont’s honeybee population has grown by about 30% from 2017 to 2022.

“Additionally, the science is not conclusive on whether this ban will achieve the desired results, but the bill has the potential to produce severe unintended environmental and economic consequences—particularly for Vermont’s dairy farmers,” he said.

Supporters of the ban, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, cite studies showing that using neonicotinoids on crops creates risks for birds, bees and other pollinators. They criticized Scott for rejecting the proposal.

“It’s hard to believe that the governor chose World Bee Day to veto this sensible legislation to protect bees and other pollinators from toxic pesticides while supporting farmers through a just transition to safer alternatives,” Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, said in a statement.

However, farmers cite studies claiming that using neonicotinoids as seed treatments is effective and safe for humans and the environment. They also pointed out that they depend on pollinators for their crops and wouldn’t use the products if they impacted bee colonies.

The measure also faced pushback from the agrochemical industry, which argues that a ban would circumvent a federal regulatory process that ensures the products are safe for commercial and residential use.

Several Northeast states, including Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and, more recently, New York, have approved laws regulating the sale and use of neonicotinoids.

In Maine, a 2021 law signed by Gov. Janet Mills prohibits the use of four neonicotinoids in lawn care, turf and other residential pest control applications but allows them in crops or other uses, such as treating wood, pet care or controlling indoor insects.

However, the Maine restrictions don’t cover agricultural crops or other uses of neonicotinoids, such as treating wood, pet care or controlling indoor insects.

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