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Published March 06, 2014, 09:04 AM

Beekeepers seek halt to corn pesticides said to kill bees

A group of Minnesota beekeepers on March 5 asked state agriculture officials to suspend the use of corn seeds treated with certain pesticides. The petition, signed by 40 beekeepers, blames neonicotinoid pesticides for killing honeybees.

By: Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio News

A group of Minnesota beekeepers on March 5 asked state agriculture officials to suspend the use of corn seeds treated with certain pesticides.

The petition, signed by 40 beekeepers, blames neonicotinoid pesticides for killing honeybees.

Currently, Minnesota farmers only have access to seeds treated with neonicotinoid pesticides, but central Minnesota beekeeper Steve Ellis said that needs to change.

“Beekeepers in Minnesota last year and in years previous have been reporting mortality events at corn seeding time,” said Ellis, who has about 2,500 hives in Barrett, Minn. “Apparently the dust is getting off of the corn seeding and going off site and causing poisoning of honeybees on flowers and around their hives.”

Ellis said the petition’s signers represent just more than 10 percent of the managed bees in the state.

In the past several years, more than a third of the nation’s honeybee population has died each year, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Studies have shown the pesticides weaken bees’ immune systems.

But the companies that manufacture the pesticides have disputed those findings and are challenging Europe’s moratorium on neonicotinoids in court.

Meanwhile, Ellis and other U.S. beekeepers have sued the Environmental Protection Agency for not acting on neonicotinoids.

Ellis said Canada has started a program that makes corn seeds not treated with neonicotinoid pesticides commercially available, and he said he’d like to see something similar in the U.S.

“I realize that logistically it’s going to be difficult at this time to make that happen for this year,” he said. “We need a leader on this.”

Ellis said he hopes Minnesota will take on that role, noting that states can have more stringent rules than the EPA.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is in the midst of a year-long review of neonicotinoids. A House environment committee will get an update from the agency on March 6 and take public testimony on threats to pollinators.

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