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Oregon congressman talks pollinators, tours SnowCap Community Charity's food pantry

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Congressman Earl Blumenauer visited SnowCap Community Charities Friday morning, Feb. 22, getting a tour from Executive Director Kirsten Wageman. The fact that the garden behind SnowCap Community Charities produces food without the use of pesticides brings a smile to the face of Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer.

The District 3 congressman visited the nonprofit organization in Gresham's Rockwood neighborhood with bees on his brain Friday morning, Feb. 22.

While he toured the emergency food pantry and chatted with volunteers who keep it going, Blumenauer spoke about the importance of protecting pollinators and a bill he has reintroduced to save insects.

"People tend to take for granted the pollination process," said Blumenauer, a Democrat. "This time, things will be easier with Democrats in charge. If we can make it to the floor I am confident it will pass."

The Saving America's Pollinators Act sets out to protect pollinators, like honeybees, from insecticides that are toxic to bees and other insects.

"Pollinators are critically important to all of our ecosystems," Blumenauer said. "The food we eat depends on their health. If we don't act now, we are facing catastrophic consequences to our very existence."

The United States lost almost one-third of its honeybee colonies between 2016 and 2018, and national honey crops — the amount of honey produced by a bee colony in one season — are lower than they have been in decades. An analysis published in "Biological Conservation" showed the rate of extinction for insects is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Earl Blumenauer is promoting a bill that would protect pollinators from toxic insecticides. "Within a century we could see the complete collapse of the insect kingdom," Blumenauer said.

The loss of pollinators like honeybees could have ramifications for agriculture across the country. One-third of food produced in North America, including nearly 100 varieties of fruits and vegetables, depends on pollination by bees. Besides almonds, avocados, cranberries and apples, other items like chocolate and tequila also are affected.

Blumenauer's legislation would suspend the use of neonicotinoids, a classification of insecticide, which some have linked to declining pollinator populations.

It's a sentiment not all agree with. Oregonians for Food & Shelter, a lobby organization which advocates on behalf of natural-resource-based businesses, is opposed to the bill.

"It would limit an important insecticide for agriculture and society," said Executive Director Katie Fast. "It's in flea collars, lawn and garden supplies, and is what you use against bed bugs."

Fast said the insecticide is low in toxicity to humans and commonly found in households. It is widely used to control unwanted insects — from termites and ticks to bugs that attack crops.

"This bill would take away a majority of the seed treatments the agricultural industry uses," Fast said. "There are not a lot of alternatives available."

OFS reports that neonicotinoids, when used within guidelines outlined in product labeling, represent little threat to pollinators.

If Blumenauer's bill is successful, it would establish a panel of experts to complete an assessment of neonicotinoids to discover what environmental impacts, if any, they are having.

"All we are asking for is a temporary suspension to see if it makes sense," he said.

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