Photo above: Sondra Novo, a beekeeper from Harford County, holds a honey-filled bear which she and other beekeepers delivered to legislators’ offices. (By Rebecca Lessner for MarylandReporter.com)
By Rebecca Lessner
For the MarylandReporter.com
A group of white suited, mud-boot stomping “Beeks” took over legislative offices Friday morning, as the group of beekeepers passed out golden-honey bears to promote their Pollinator Protection Act.
The sweet action by these “beeks,” as they call themselves, would establish labeling requirements for any seed, plant material or nursery stock that uses the Neonics pesticide and limits the selling of these pesticides to only qualified applicants.
HB 605, the Pollinator Protection Act, was heard by the Environment and Transportation committee following the entourage of honey-harvesters.
If enacted the bill would only allow certified applicators, including veterinarians and farmers, to buy the pesticide, taking it off the shelves of neighborhood stores. It faces opposition from a pesticide manufacturer and people concerned it could impact flea drops for pets.
“What I really would like to see is that these pesticides are removed from the general retailers,” said bill sponsor Del. Anne Healey, D-Prince Georges County.
According to the beekeeper panel, more than half of “bee-friendly” plants purchased at Home Depot, Walmart and Lowes stores in Maryland have neonicotinoids at levels that would “kill bees outright.”
Neonics in the ecosystem
Neonics, or Neonicotinoid, is a systemic pesticide that once ingested by a plant stays in the plant tissues.
“We are not simply talking about the impact on an organism, we are talking about the impact on a community of organisms that interrelate,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides.
Feldman believes that consumers will make conscious efforts to restrict their use of Neonics if the pesticide is labeled properly.
According to the Beek panel, in 2012, Maryland beekeepers lost nearly 50% of their hives.
Also required by the bill would be labeling of all products that contain Neonics, the label would read:
“WARNING: Bees are essential to many agricultural crops. This product has been treated with neonicotinoid pesticides, found to be a major contributor to bee deaths and the depletion of the bee population.”
“It doesn’t take away the use of the farmers, we just want to be sure people know and use it responsibly,” said bill co-sponsor Del. Wendell Beitzel, R-Garrett and Allegany County.
Beitzel recounted his childhood on a farm with bees, keeping bees through his adult life until his bee allergy prevented him.
Through studying biology, Beitzel learned of “Colony Collapse Disorder,” a bee disorder that is linked to pesticides.
The bee population in a hive will “completely disappear,” instead of leaving behind piles of dead bees inside the hive. This disproves that disease is the only cause of the declining bee population, because diseased bees will die inside the hive.
“At this alarming rate of honey bee losses, our food supply will simply not be sustainable,” said Roger Williams, beekeeper and president of the Central Maryland Beekeepers Association. “By taking responsible steps, such as the Pollinator Protection Act, we can protect our bees and food supply and our beekeepers from extinction.”
Eric Schott, assistant professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, is concerned about the runoff of the pesticide to the Chesapeake Bay, pointing out that Neonics affects the nervous system of crustaceans similarly to insects.
“Fewer blue crabs are surviving the molting phase…There could be ripple effects throughout the bay,” said Schott.
However, there are conflicting opinions on the rise or decline of the bee population.
Bayer CropScience: chemistry on these pesticides are safe
Becky Langer, project manager at the Bee Health North America Center for Bayer CropScience, called the bill “unnecessary.” Bayer is a manufacturer of several pesticides sold in stores like Lowes and Home Depot and invested $12 million in bee health in 2014, according to its website.
“Bee numbers are on the rise…locally, bee colonies have risen by 45% since 1960 according to U.N. reports,” said Langer.
Langer attributes bee decline to other factors, including “mites and diseases.”
“There is no class of chemistry out there that is as safe as this one,” said Dr. Iain Kelly, Bayer’s Bee Health Issue Manager.
The conflicting surveys presented to the committee by both pro and opponents had the committee chairman, Del. Kumar Barve, engaged.
“This bill is clearly going to be a dueling studies one,” said Kumar.
Bill could impact pet owners
The concern over the widespread use of the pesticide in home-products also arose.
Del. Anthony O’Donnell, R-Calvert and St. Mary’s County, brought up that the pesticide is found in home-applicable flea drops.
“Under this bill, will the 5.9 million Marylanders have to go to a veterinarian to get their flea-drops?” said O’Donnell.
Healey acknowledged that kinks may need to be worked out as they arise, and she is willing to work with the committee as they “tweak” the bill.
“Part of this process is for us to learn together and for the general public to learn as well,” said O’Donnell in agreement.
Although it’s a step in the right direction that Del. Beitzel is a lead sponsor on this bill, I wish he would recognize the tactics used by the pesticide industry to oppose the bill are nearly identical (even down to the language) of those used by the gas industry in the very same committee last week in its opposition to a moratorium on fracking. (Del. Beitzel vehemently supports fracking, despite the growing numbers of his constituents, and Marylanders in general, who believe it is not worth the risks it will bring to our state.)
Like Del. O’Donnell in the HB 605 hearing, Delegate Szeliga tried to dismiss concerns over fracking’s toxic impacts on groundwater and public health by claiming that some fracking chemicals are in household products (HB 409). Never mind that if you’ve got a toddler in the house, you lock the kitchen cabinet to be sure these toxic products are not accidentally ingested.
And industry lobbyists tried, in both cases, to claim these bills are “unnecessary” and to attribute harms caused by the actions of their industry to “other factors.” It should come as no surprise that the pesticide and fracking industries work from the same playbook in legislative committees.
Here’s hoping the thinkers on this committee see through these predictable tactics and vote to protect the bees, our food supply, our groundwater, and public health. We can’t afford not to act responsibly in either case.