Massachusetts Food System Collaborative
Massachusetts Food System Collaborative

Inputs: Goal 4

Exposure to toxic chemicals and other hazardous materials will be reduced to protect human health, pollinators, and the environment.

Chemicals play an important role in many facets of the food system – from cleaning equipment to targeting pests. Pesticides, solvents, plastics, and tires are just a few of the products that are widely used in the food system, but are potentially dangerous. Some of these materials are inherently toxic, while others can become toxic by improper disposal, such as through burning. The proper application, storage, and disposal of these materials is essential to protect human and environmental health, andthe health of the food system. In some cases, less- and non-toxic alternatives exist. In other cases, more education about the proper use of chemicals, better compliance with existing regulations, and additional research is called for to understand and minimize unintended impacts from the use of these products.

The food system depends on natural and managed pollination for many of its crops, but pollinators are under stress from a variety of causes including pests, habitat loss, and pesticides. At the extreme, Colony Collapse Disorder[1] poses a direct threat to a thriving pollinator population. While more research is needed to understand the various factors that are stressing pollinators, increasing and protecting pollinator habitats, and reducing pollinator exposure to pesticides is prudent. The Massachusetts Farm Bureau has brought together pollinator stakeholders to confront the threats facing both native and managed pollinators. The Pollinator Stewardship group is developing recommendations for an integrated approach to protect pollinators.

Recommendation 4.1: Ensure optimal application of pesticides to reduce harm to humans and the environment.

Action 4.1.1: Provide more education and technical assistance to homeowners and landscapers for proper use of pesticides through local boards of health.

Action 4.1.2: Anticipate increased pest issues in light of climate change impacts. UMass Extension should monitor pest issues experienced in warmer climates that may migrate to Massachusetts under warmer and changed climate conditions.

Action 4.1.3: Increase UMass Extension resources for providing integrated pest management (IPM) technical assistance and education to farmers, homeowners, and other pesticide users.

Recommendation 4.2: Make recycling and disposal of plastics, tires, and other potentially hazardous chemicals easy and affordable for farms.

Action 4.2.1: Educate farmers to make sure they are aware that burning chemicals and plastics is illegal, and impacts human and environmental health.

Action 4.2.2: Make it easier to dispose of hazardous chemicals through municipal and regional collection programs.

Action 4.2.3: Promote tire stewardship legislation and education to safely dispose of tires.

Action 4.2.4: Work with towns, cities, and solid waste districts to create an agricultural plastic recycling system.

Recommendation 4.3: Protect the habitat and health of pollinators critical to the food system.

Action 4.3.1: Increase education and technical assistance to ensure the health of pollinators, including education for beekeepers, pesticide applicators, farmers, landowners, municipalities, and regulators.

Action 4.3.2: USDA-NRCS should strongly encourage plantings and management practices that create and/or preserve pollinator habitat, including on property edges, and through cover crops.

Action 4.3.3: Re-examine EOEEA’s Prohibited Plant List[2] for benefits that they may provide to pollinators and, in light of expected climate change impacts, and make adjustments to the list as appropriate.

Action 4.3.4: Revise planting guidelines in local bylaws, subdivision regulations, and elsewhere to support pollinator habitats.

Action 4.3.5: Conduct research and education to establish guidelines on the optimal volume of managed pollinators on a site that can be balanced with native populations.

Action 4.3.6: Expand land conservation programs to protect pollinator habitat, including on smaller, urban parcels.

Action 4.3.7: Monitor research findings on the quantity, use, and impacts of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, a systemic pesticide, in order to shape effective public policy interventions.

Action 4.3.8: EPA must improve pesticide labels to include information about potential risk to bees.

Action 4.3.9: Implement the recommendations from the Pollinator Stewardship group.

[1] USDA Agricultural Research Service. (2015). Honey Bee Health and Colony Collapse Disorder, Accessed October 2015 from

[2] MA EOEEA. (2009). Massachusetts Prohibited Plant List. Accessed October 2015 from

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Massachusetts Food System Collaborative