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"This is the first action of any state, a finding of fact, that neonicotinoids are harmful to bees," said state Sen. Rick Hansen, a co-sponsor of the 2014 bill. (Photo: matt knoth/flickr/cc)

In First Use of Landmark Law, Minnesota Confirms Neonics Harm Bees

Two beekeepers have received compensation for their hives being damaged from a neighbor farm's pesticide use

Nadia Prupis

Minnesota has compensated two beekeepers who say their hives were damaged by a controversial strain of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, in the first test of a groundbreaking 2014 state law.

"This is the first action of any state, a finding of fact, that neonicotinoids are harmful to bees," state Sen. Rick Hansen, a co-sponsor of the 2014 bill, told the Star Tribune on Sunday. "Once you have a state compensating people for a loss, it's real."

With this decision, investigators with the state Department of Agriculture confirmed that these pesticides, which are in widespread use throughout the country, are harmful to bees even when used properly.

Lex Horan, a Minnesota-based organizer with the Pesticide Action Network, told Common Dreams, "This was a really important decision. It's important because it confirms a lot of what we have known for a long time...pesticides are harmful to bees and other pollinators."

"What's significant about it is we often here from the pesticide industry that as long as they're used correctly, they don't do any harm," Horan said. This case shows "there's a need for a change in the regulation of these pesticides, and not laying the blame on the farmers who are using them correctly."

The insecticide in question is clothianidin, a neonicotinoid that has been linked to declining populations of honeybees, bumblebees, and other insects and pollinators, which environmental activists say threatens food supply.

Clothianidin is a seed coating used for corn and soybean plants to fend off insects in the soil. As the plant grows, so does the pesticide. The two beekeepers in the case say their hives were contaminated when toxic dust floated onto their property from a neighbor's farm, where clothianidin was being used.

The Star Tribune reports:

Beekeepers, especially those in the Midwest, say that drift from corn planting is a common and serious problem that occurs just when their bees need to be out collecting nectar for the honey crop in springtime.

"We are still having issues with corn planting and treated seeds," said Gary Reuter, a researcher with the University of Minnesota’s bee laboratory, who works with beekeepers around the state.

Seed coating is not considered an "application" of pesticides, unlike spraying, because farmers buy the seeds already coated, the Star Tribune said.

Kristy Allen, one of the beekeepers compensated in Sunday's decision, said that loophole indicates the process is "broken."

"The fact that MDA [Minnesota Department of Agriculture] is compensating me for something that is not illegal is crazy to me," she told the Star Tribune. "It means something is broken."

The state agriculture department is reportedly conducting a more comprehensive investigation into neonicotinoid use in Minnesota, with results expected later this month.

Horan said the decision should be a "wake-up call" for state and federal regulators. "Same goes for the EPA," he said. "Historically, they haven't paid enough attention to this issue in particular."

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