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Maine Lawmaker's Proposed Pesticide Ban Aims to Help Honeybees
12/16/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

A two-year ban by the European Union on the use of a pesticide some suspect is harmful to honeybees is prompting a state lawmaker to advance legislation for a similar moratorium in Maine. Rep. Brian Jones says his bill to would allow entomologists a chance to gauge how much impact the removal of the chemical might have on local bee colonies. Although some beekeepers see value in the study, at least one Maine agricultural group says the moratorium would have a devastating impact on commercial potato growers. A.J. Higgins has more.

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Debate continues over what's causing the phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, in which honeybees mysteriously abandon their hives and disappear.

"There are a lot of known damages to honeybees, but the most insidious ones are the synergies that are unknown," says Rep. Brian Jones, a Freedom Democrat.

Jones says one possible cause may be the use of a broad class of systemic pesticides known neonicotinoids. Jones, who is also a licensed beekeeper, says his bill would impose a two-year ban on the use of the pesticides in Maine, and give researchers a chance to find out if bees do better in the absense of the chemicals.

"Rather than wait until we find out too late the environmental damage that we've done - or damage specifically to our pollinators, I think it's the prudent thing to do to suspend their use and study the matter," Jones says. "The European Union has implemented on a two-year moratorium on these pesticides as well."

There's a lot of debate within the communities of apiarists, commercial farmers and entomologists about the use of the neonicotinoid pesticides and their impact on bee colonies. Some say the pesticide kills or paralyzes different varieties of bees, while others say the pesticide poses no danger to bees.

And earlier this month, several national beekeeping organizations filed an opening brief in an appeal challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its approval of the neonicotinoid pesticide known as Sulfoxaflor.

"It's because all neonicotinoid insecticides really aren't equal," says Tony Jadczak, the state apiarist for the Maine Department of Agriculture.

Jadczak says an array of insecticides fall into the neonicotinoid class, and that some produce different results depending on how they are applied. Jadczak says some of these products are highly effective against certain pests that damage some of the state's major crops.

For that reason - and also because of the absence of conclusive data within the beekeeping community - he's inclined to oppose a ban.

"I really believe that if there was a moratorium, we would see no positive benefit to honeybees," Jadczak says, "because in my opinion and that of many others, the primary cause for the loss of hives over the last 25 years or so is primarily due to the varroa mite and viral complex associated with that parasite that was introduced from Asia in 1987."

In Aroostook County, where neonicotinoids have been used to manage the proliferation of the highly destructive Colorado potato beetle, farmers have come to rely on the pesticide during the growing season. Don Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board in Presque Isle, says the proposed moratorium would have a devastating effect on growers.

"If the moratorium was put in place, today we don't have anything that's going to take its place that's going to give us near the effectiveness of that chemical, with the chemicals we're using," Flannery said. "So we're going to see a huge negative impact from a moratorium if it's put on here in Maine."

Bee inspectors, including Tony Jadczak, say regardless of the actions taken against neonicotinoids in Europe, the pesticides remain a preferable alternative to some of the older chemistries that were proven to be lethal to bees and other pollinators.


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