Raleigh, N.C. — Some House lawmakers are seeking limits on the use of a common pesticide to protect the health of North Carolina's beehives.
House Bill 363, titled the Pollinator Protection Act, would allow the use of neonicotinoid pesticides only by farmers, licensed applicators and veterinarians. The chemical would be banned for unlicensed home, garden and landscape applications, which constitutes about 25 percent of their use.
The proposal would also require the North Carolina Pesticide Board to study the long-term costs and benefits of neonicotinoids, including the use of seeds coated in the chemical, which is water-soluble and can leach into neighboring soil.
Neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides, have become the most widely used pesticides in the U.S. and around the world, in large part because they've proven less toxic to mammals and birds than older chemicals such as organophosphates.
However, the rapid rise in their use has been accompanied by devastating losses of honeybee colonies. While manufacturers like Syngenta and Bayer say their research shows their product has not caused the losses, other scientists say there's a clear impact, though other problems like loss of habitat and mites have also contributed to the die-off.
According to statistics from a joint project by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland, 44 percent of beehives in the U.S. were lost in 2015-16. Preston Peck with advocacy group Toxic Free NC called that "a number that's both staggering and unsustainable."
Rodney Medley, a Cumberland County beekeeper, traveled to Raleigh Wednesday with other North Carolina beekeepers for Agriculture Day at the legislature.
"There's nothing that hits your heart more," Medley said, "than when you go open one of the hives and it's dead" and lab testing of the dead bees "shows they died because of pesticides."
Medley stressed that he's not seeking a ban on the insecticide, "just being responsible."
Sponsor Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, used to be an active beekeeper, and Rep. John Ager, D-Buncombe, said his family farm includes a commercial bee operation, which pollinates apples, blueberries and many other fruit crops in the area. Both expressed deep concern about the high percentage of losses in recent years.
"This is personal for my family," Ager said. "My farm's future is on the line."
Sponsor Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, said about one-third of agricultural crops rely on pollinators. That's why 18 other states have taken action to protect them, she said, including Maryland, Connecticut and Minnesota in 2016.