Beekeepers Come Out to Support the Proposed MD Bill About Neonicotinoids
“This place is a hive of activity,” one man quipped as beekeepers entered the Maryland Environmental Legislative Summit dressed in their white canvas suits in Annapolis, MD last night. They had come, mesh hoods hanging down their backs, to show support for the proposed Pollinator Protection Act of 2015. Some wore political buttons emblazoned with a cartoon bee and #beesafe.
“This bill should be a no-brainer,” said Roger Williams, President of the Central Maryland Beekeepers Association, as he addressed the standing-room only crowd at the Miller Senate Building. Most of the two hundred or so present were staffers of delegates and state senators or environmental activists.
Roger Williams from the Central MD Beekeepers Association speaks about the Pollinator Protection Act of 2015.
Bees, Williams pointed out, contribute and enormous amount to Maryland’s economy and well-being, helping to pollinate a number of our most valuable crops. But, he noted, these and other important pollinators are in trouble. In the last few years, beekeepers in the state have reported losing some 30% of their hives; in 2012 they lost 50%.
There are many factors causing the crisis, Williams acknowledged. “There are no silver bullets. But I will say that one of the main contributors is the widespread use of neonicotinoids. ”
Neonic pesticides, he explained, can kill bees directly. They can also weaken their immune systems and their ability to navigate and find their way home. They also have been found to impact human health and water quality, even impacting blue crabs, an important part of the state’s fisheries, economy, and natural heritage. (see this past post for more info)
Even so, he explained, they remain widely available and are found in plants labeled bee-friendly that are offered for sale in many nurseries, garden centers, and hardware stores.
His organization was, therefore, coming out to support SB163 , known as the Pollinator Protection Act of 2015, and sponsored by a number of senators from Baltimore, Prince Georges, and Montgomery Counties.
“It could be a great bipartisan effort. Bees are not democrats or republicans, they are neither red or blue,” he said.
Beekeepers came in their white canvas suits to make a statement. One person came in costume, complete with antennae.
Then, with a slight pause and a tiny bit of flourish, Williams implored the crowd to “start a buzz” about the bill, cueing the beekeepers to all beginning humming loudly from their seats in the fourth row. One person dressed in a costume that included wings and goggles even put on a headband with antennae and began to sway.
If enacted, the Maryland Pollinator Protection Act of 2015 would include two key elements:
1) It would require that any plant seed or nursery stock treated with neonicotinoids include a warning label specifically indicating the negative impact to bees;
2) It would prohibit retail consumers from buying these pesticides by restricting their use to certified applicators such as farmers and veterinarians.
“We should count the loss of pollination services when we talk about the benefits of cheap food,” said Dr. Spencer Phillips, the founder and principal of Key-Log Economics, later in the evening during his own lecture on environmental economics. Pesticides may enable us to produce huge amounts of food at a low price to consumers, he added, but the cost in terms of pollinators is enormous and should be accounted for when we tally up numbers regarding agriculture.
Many noted that this year’s summit – which included speeches about water quality, environmental justice, fracking and plastic pollution in addition to William’s speech about pollinators – was the most crowded they had ever seen in the 21 years since advocacy groups and NGOs began meeting to discuss environmental issues in the state’s capitol at the beginning of the legislative session.
“People really care about the bees,” said one beekeeper from the city of Baltimore later, after the speeches were done and everyone spilled out into the lobby. Although the bit of comedic theater in the room was meant to draw attention, the implications of pollinator failure are very serious. Pointing to a photo of dead bees piled up around a hive he reminded passers by that bees supply about one out of every three mouthfuls of food we eat.
“Beekeepers are getting pretty tired of dealing with die outs.”