You know what’s not great for honeybees? Neonicotinoid pesticides. In the last few years, several studies have linked this type of pesticide to bee brain impairment and death. So you know what Maryland did? They decided to ban neonicotinoids…from personal use.

This is mostly good news. “Mostly” because neonic pesticides can still be used on farms in the state, “good” because this ban is the most significant bee-saving legislation in the U.S.A.


What Does the Ban Actually Do?

Maryland’s Pollinator Protection Act of 2016, passed by the state Senate on April 3, prohibits the sale of neonicotinoid pesticides to individuals – except those who are “certified applicators” of pesticides, such as farmers or veterinarians, or those working under the supervision of certified applicators. The ban will go into effect on January 1, 2018.

What Do Neonicotinoids Do?

Neonicotinoid pesticides do what any pesticide does, kill pests. And while bees are not considered pests (quite the opposite, as explained below), they are significantly impacted by pesticides in the environment.

One UK study found that bumblebees exposed to neonics suffered disruptions in brain function, bee learning and the ability to forage for food. The end result was a decline in bee colony growth. “Our research demonstrates beyond doubt that the level of neonicotinoids generally accepted as the average level present in the wild causes brain dysfunction and colonies to perform poorly when consumed by bumblebees,” said Dr. Chris Connolly, a Reader in the Division of Neuroscience at Dundee’s School of Medicine, and whom participated in the study.

Around the world, bee numbers are in decline. This is unfortunate for entomologists, but really bad news for the agricultural industry, which relies on bees’ role as pollinators. According to one study, as many as three-quarters of the world’s food crops depend on animals like bees for pollination.

Neonics are not the sole cause of the decline (parasites and climate change also play significant roles), but increased usage of the pesticide has coincided with declines in bee colony numbers. Last year, U.S. beekeepers reported a 42.1 percent drop in their bee colony populations. In the same year, Maryland’s beekeepers lost 61 percent of their hives.

To give you some context, any loss above 15 percent is considered outside “sustainable” levels for bee colonies. “Maryland’s losses are really staggering,” Tiffany Finck-Haynes, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, told ThinkProgress.

Worker bees attending their queen. (Photo Credit: Todd Huffman / Flickr)

Worker bees attending their queen. (Photo Credit: Todd Huffman / Flickr)

So Why Hasn’t Maryland Passed a Blanket Neonicotinoid Ban?

That’s a fair question, but one better answered by the state’s pesticide lobby. The better question is, why is Maryland the only state to pass even a partial ban?

As early as 2014, the federal government recognized the danger neonics pose to wildlife. That’s why this form of pesticide is now prohibited on all federal wildlife refuges.

“There’s no question that these super-toxic pesticides are taking a heavy toll on imperiled native pollinators around the world,” Jonathan Evans, Environmental Health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), said last year. Evans was responding to a 2015 study published in the journal Nature that found neonics were also endangering wild bees. “We need the EPA to step up and take action to ban these dangerous chemicals before it’s too late to save our wild bees.”

The EPA did eventually conclude that one neonicotinoid, imidacloprid, posed a significant risk to honeybees. However, as CBD pointed out, the Agency’s analysis “failed to examine risks to nearly 4,000 North American native bees and all other pollinators, including imperiled butterflies, bats and birds.”

As bees continue to disappear, food abundance will decline and food prices will rise. This dire potential impelled 118 business to write President Obama last year, urging him to suspend the use of all pesticides linked to the decline of domestic honeybees.

“Our businesses are deeply concerned about the continued and unsustainable loss of bees and other essential pollinator populations,” the companies wrote, “and urge that significant action be taken now to address the threats they face from pesticides and other stressors threatening their survival. Bee losses have a ripple effect across the entire economy, and in many cases, affect our bottom-line.”

While Maryland’s partial ban remains the nation’s outlier, 12 other states are currently considering neonicotinoid bans of their own, including Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Virginia and Vermont.

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