Bill to protect bees withdrawn after ag business criticism

By PATRICK WHITTLE Markets Associated Press

A bill designed to protect bees in Maine from a class of pesticides has been withdrawn in the wake of criticism from agricultural interests.

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Rep. Michael Devin, a Newcastle Democrat, proposed the bill, which would have put limits on the use and sale of neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids, also called "neonics," are insect-killing pesticides that are among a number of factors that have been blamed for health woes among pollinators, such as bees.

The Maine Legislature's Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry voted against recommending passage of the bill on April 25. Devin said he then withdrew it. He said he plans to work up a new bill on the subject in the future that he hopes will be more politically viable.

Chemical industry giant Bayer, which makes neonicotinoids, testified against the bill, as did the Maine Potato Board and the Ornamental Horticulture Council. One of the complaints from critics was that the legislation was misguided because it could result in overreliance on other kinds of pesticides, which can have their own consequences for the environment.

Passage of the bill "may result in much more toxic pesticides being applied at much more frequent intervals," said Timothy Hobbs, director of development for the Maine Potato Board. He added that those options "precipitated the development of the newer much safer class of neonicotinoids."

The loss of pollinators such as bees has emerged as a major environmental cause in recent years. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has stated on its website that a "general declining health of honey bees" is related to pests, diseases, poor nutrition, pesticide exposure and other factors.

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Devin said he plans to submit a new bill that focuses on multiple factors that affect pollinator health. He's working with state Sen. James Dill, an Old Town Democrat and pest management scientist, to craft the new bill, which he said could come forward in January.

The initial proposal "was not scientifically there," Dill said. It's unclear at this point exactly what the new bill could look like, he said.

"I will work with Sen. Dill to draft a proposal that will address this problem more comprehensively than just focusing on this one pesticide," Devin said.