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Beekeepers Raise Alarm Over Nicotine-Derived Pesticides

Photo by Sue Boo, interlab spy, via USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab

Beekeepers turned up in Annapolis on Tuesday to raise concerns about pesticides linked to beehive collapse and support a bill that would limit access to those chemicals. But Hogan administration officials voiced doubt on the science and the practicality of the proposed legislation.

The pesticides in question are called neonicotinoids. Roger Williams, president of the Central Maryland Beekeepers Association, says Maryland beekeepers have lost about a third of honeybee hives annually since 2006, and puts part of the blame on neonicotinoids. He says the chemicals are neurotoxic to bees, and a growing body of scientific research links even sub-lethal doses to impairment of bees’ ability to fly, navigate, forage and fight disease, causing hive collapse.

"You can find these chemicals in the hives, and you can find them in the bees. Can you make the absolute link? Beekeepers can’t. But the scientists have," Williams said.

The so-called Pollinator Protection Act of 2015 would require nurseries to label plants treated with the pesticides, and ban the sale of neonicotinoids for home use. Certified applicators, farmers and veterinarians would still be able to buy the nicotine-derived insecticides.

Baltimore County beekeeper Bonnie Raindrop says consumers have a right to know when they’re buying neonicotinoid-treated plants. A recent study found more than half of bee-friendly plants for sale in Maryland were treated with the pesticides, which are banned in Europe.

“In a way we’ve kind of created killing fields for the bees in the very gardens that we are trying to nourish them with,” Raindrop said.

Bees are critical to a huge swath of the food chain, Raindrop said, including most of the produce available at the supermarket. Watermen, farmers and researchers who study birds, crabs and other sea life testified in support of the bill, saying neonicotinoids’ ill effects extend beyond pollinators.

The Department of Legislative estimated the legislation would cost the state between $170,000 and $194,700 per year to implement.

Carol Holko, an assistant secretary for plant industries and entomologist at the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said the costs of implementing the bill would be greater than estimated, “and even so that’s money that we don’t have to spend.” And because 43 percent of plants sold in Maryland come from out of state, identifying the plants that were treated with neonicotinoids would not be feasible, she said.

“The good news about all of this is that everybody here today is in agreement: We love honeybees and we want to support beekeepers. They’re our wings of agriculture, they’re critically important, and we love honey,” Holko said.

But Holko questioned the science linking neonicotinoids to hive collapse in the state of Maryland. She said verroa mites, small hive beetles and a number of diseases have also contributed to beehive collapse in the state.

Pesticide manufacturers and some nursery owners and farmers also opposed the legislation.

A review of neonicotinoids by the US Environmental Protection Agency is expected in 2018.