Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides that provides protection from insect herbivores by entering plant vascular systems. Neonicotinoids are especially good for controlling sucking insect pests such aphids and whiteflies. Neonicotinoids are selectively toxic to insects and are safe enough for homeowners to handle. However, neonicotinoids have several problems including persistence in soil, movement in water and toxicity to honey bees. Neonicotinoids have the highest toxicity to honey bees of any pesticides in use. Neonicotinoids have been responsible for high profile bee kills.
In recent years Maryland beekeepers have suffered losses greater than 50%. They attribute some of the mortality to neonicotinoid insecticides and want protection. Their state representatives have heard their case. The Maryland Senate has approved legislation that would restrict the use of neonicotinoid insecticides to trained and licensed applicators. If passed by the Maryland house, the law would go into effect in 2018. Neonicotinoid-containing products would become off limits to homeowners who would need to select from a variety of other available products.
Neonicotinoids pose such a high risk to bees that legislators are convinced that bee protection requires restrictions on their use. To prevent harm to bees, homeowners would need to follow the pesticide label directions to the letter. However, most homeowners don’t have training, don’t understand the risks, and don’t read the instructions let alone follow them. If untrained people cannot use a product safely, then they should not be allowed to use it.
The legislation has “existing stocks” provision to allow retailers to adjust to the new rules. Store shelves are currently stocked with neonicotinoid products. Phasing them out over the next year and a half allows stores to clear their shelves. An immediate ban would stick store owners with products that they could not sell, carry expensive disposal costs and might overwhelm the special systems for disposing of pesticides safely. An immediate ban could lead to other environmental problems. A phase-out of existing stocks is the most environmentally responsible way forward.
We will see if the Maryland House follows through on this legislation and if others states follow Maryland’s lead. Ideally, pesticide legislation is made at the national level to create one uniform standard rather than a mishmash of differing and potentially conflicting regulations at the state level.