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Three cheers for Minnesota’s bee-friendly law!

Marianne Landzettel - 04 July 2014

BeesLegislators in the US state of Minnesota took action after a study done last year by Friends of the Earth US found more than half of all bee-friendly plants bought in nurseries to be contaminated with neonicotinoids.

The bill, which was only passed in May, came into effect on July 1st. It states: "A person may not label or advertise an annual plant, bedding plant, or other plant, plant material, or nursery stock as beneficial to pollinators if the annual plant, bedding plant, plant material, or nursery stock has been treated with and has a detectable level of systemic insecticide that: (1) has a pollinator protection box on the label; or (2) has a pollinator, bee, or honey bee precautionary statement in the environmental hazards section of the insecticide product label."

Why is any of this important to us, you may ask, the EU has banned neonicotinoids for a two year trial period, all should be well. That’s the theory, indeed, but the ban is neither monitored nor enforced and if you want to make sure that the bee-friendly plants you buy have not been contaminated you have to grill staff over where the plants came from and how they were raised (unless you buy from a certified organic nursery).

Chances are you won’t get a satisfactory answer, not because the sales person is being difficult but because they probably don’t know. Scientist in Minnesota believe that the new law will change that: “Nurseries to stay in business will have to pay attention to this new strong consumer demand,” said Marla Spivak, professor of entomology and bee expert at the University of Minnesota.

Systemic pesticides like neonicotinoids show up in every part of a treated plant, including its pollen and nectar - and that’s what harms bees and other pollinators. Companies which produce systemic insecticides say fears over pollinator health are based on poor science and John Atkin, Syngenta’s chief operating officer said there was, "a wealth of evidence from the field that these pesticides do not damage the health of bees."

But last month a panel of scientists conducting a four year review of more than 800 peer reviewed studies concluded that ‘neonics pose a serious risk to honeybees and other pollinators such as butterflies and to a wide range of other invertebrates such as earthworms and vertebrates including birds.’

Lawmakers in Minnesota have only addressed the issue of neonicotinoids in nursery plants which is minute compared to the use in agriculture. Neonicotinoids are effective against sap sucking insects like aphids which not only weaken the plants but can also spread diseases. It’s not surprising that they are widely used and that conventional farmers in the EU (not to mention agrichemical companies) would like the ban to be lifted.

Nevertheless, a clear, reliable bee-friendly label is an excellent start. And in Minnesota there is some additional good news for beekeepers: they will be compensated for the loss of a colony if the bees died because of exposure to pesticides. A team of experts will investigate incidents of bee deaths and determine the cause and in the case of insecticides its source.

Which leaves me to mention one other study quoted by the not for profit Cornucopia Institute in the US: It looks as if bees know what’s good for them! Scientists who looked at the number of times bees and other insects visited flowers in an organic vineyard as compared to a conventionally managed one found that the organic flowers received significantly more visits.

Marianne is a journalist and broadcaster. Agriculture, food, farming and their interconnections are her passion. She's co-written a book on urban agriculture, covering the US, the UK and South Asia. She has worked for the BBC World Service, and has been UK and Ireland correspondent for German public radio (where she started out as a reporter for the farming programme in the 1980s). Marianne is a Riverford veg box addict and doesn't function without coffee. Follow Marianne on twitter...


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Julia Vanatta
06 July 2014 13:59

We still have a long way to go. is working to educated local hardware stores and garden centers about the pesticides they currently sell. We encourage them to willingly remove systemics and other harmful pesticides from their shelves, helping them identify safer options and working with them to find reasonably priced disposal of existing stock. We learned from MN Dept of Ag that DDT from 70s ban sits in barrels in a warehouse. Disposal is a huge issue.

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