Monday, March 21, 2016

Minnesota compensates beekeepers for losses linked to pesticides from neighboring farm

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture "has compensated two beekeepers whose hives were severely damaged last spring by toxic dust that drifted off the fields of a neighbor planting corn," Josephine Marcotty reports for the Star Tribune. The farmer in question used neonicotinoids, a widely used pesticide used on crops that attract pollinators. State officials have "confirmed, in effect, what beekeepers have been saying for years: Even when used according to law, the most widely used class of insecticides in the world are acutely toxic to honeybees under routine circumstances."

State Sen. Rick Hansen, a Democrat who sponsored a 2014 environmental law that created the compensation system, said "the finding marks a precedent in the ongoing national fight over the controversial group of insecticides called neonicotinoids, which have been implicated in the decline of bees and other wild pollinating insects," Marcotty writes. Hansen told her, “This is the first action of any state, a finding of fact, that neonicotinoids are harmful to bees. Once you have a state compensating people for a loss, it’s real."

The insecticide at the heart of the controversy, clothianidin, "is used as a coating on most of the corn and soybean seeds used in American agriculture," Marcotty writes. "Farmers use it as a preventive to protect seedlings from insects in the soil. As the plant grows, the toxin grows with it, making the entire plant poisonous. Beekeepers, especially those in the Midwest, say that drift from corn planting is a common and serious problem that occurs just when their bees need to be out collecting nectar for the honey crop in springtime."

The Environmental Protection Agency in January released a study linking neonicotinoids to a decline in bee populations. Critics, led by Bayer CropScience, have called the study flawed. "But Bayer has acknowledged that drift from corn planting, which can contain extremely high levels of the toxin, can damage bees and other insects," Marcotty writes. "The company says such events are rare but has supported the development of other products to help solve the problem." (Read more)

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