Friday, June 23, 2023

Washington, D.C. – Today, Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley announced new legislation that would create the “Pollinator-Friendly Plant Labeling Program,” modeled after the Organic Foods Production Act, which created Organic Labeling. The program would require the Department of Agriculture to create a certification program for plant producers in order to certify that their plants are not treated with pesticides harmful to monarchs and other pollinators.

“Protecting Western Monarch butterflies and other pollinators is a critical issue, and I know many of us are looking for ways to help,” said Sen. Merkley. “Projects like at home gardening are great ways that every day consumers can take action. But folks across the country buying milkweed plants to help boost pollinator populations may unknowingly be picking up pesticide-treated plants that are actually harming the pollinators they are intended to support. We need to ensure that consumers who want to help can find safe, pollinator-friendly plants when they head to their local nursery.”

Last year, a study of nurseries across the U.S. found that milkweed plants—essential to the survival of monarch butterflies—are frequently being treated with pesticides that are harmful to monarch caterpillars. As a result, well-intentioned consumers purchasing milkweed to help support pollinator populations are unknowingly exposing pollinator populations to harmful environments. Even plants that were listed as “wildlife-friendly” did not have any fewer pesticides on them. This is particularly harmful for the Western Monarch, which is at great risk of extinction according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature—having declined by an estimated 99.9 percent between the 1980s and 2021, from as many as 10 million to 1,914 butterflies.

Producers who choose to participate in the program would be able to use a “USDA Pollinator-friendly” label on their plants and products.

The Pollinator-Friendly Plant Labeling Act is also co-sponsored by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Peter Welch (D-VT), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

The Pollinator-Friendly Plant Labeling Act is supported by The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, National Wildlife Federation, and the Sierra Club.

“Research has shown that pollinator plants sold in US nurseries often have high levels of pesticide residue, which can harm or even kill monarch butterflies and other pollinators,” said Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. “Customers deserve to know whether the plants they buy are truly safe for pollinators. The Pollinator Friendly Plant Labeling Program bill introduced by Senator Merkley will establish the first ever certification that achieves that.”

“Many consumers are buying plants with the goal of helping butterflies and other essential pollinator species recover. Senator Merkley’s Pollinator Friendly Plant Labeling bill will give consumers confidence that their efforts are not inadvertently harming pollinator populations, and the National Wildlife Federation appreciates his leadership on this important pollinator conservation bill,” said Dr. Rebeca Quiñonez-Piñón, PhD, Chief Monarch Strategist, National Wildlife Federation.

“Senator Merkley’s bill recognizes the vital role of pollinators and native plant species in sustaining our ecosystems,” said Bradley Williams, Associate Director of Advocacy, Sierra Club. “By empowering consumers to make informed choices, this legislation protects the invaluable services provided by pollinators and helps to preserve the biodiversity and resilience of our environment. We look forward to its swift passage”