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Concerned for bees, Minnesota lawmakers call for pesticide review

ST. PAUL — Seventeen DFL legislators rebuked the state Department of Agriculture late last week over its planned review of the controversial pesticides implicated in the decline in honeybees, arguing that the study should include the possibility of restricting or even banning them in Minnesota.

Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, said the public criticism is unusual, but reflects the concerns that constituents have voiced over the fate of honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies and the hundreds of other pollinating insects that are declining across the state.

“This is a concern in farm country, the suburbs and the city,” he said in an interview. “We are asking them to use their powers to make the best result for Minnesota.”

At the direction of the Legislature, last year the Agriculture Department launched a special review of the pesticide class called neonicotinoids, which have been tied to the decline of insects, as part of a new law to protect pollinators in the state. In March, the department outlined the scope of the review but said it is not intended to go beyond what the Environmental Protection Agency has already done in its approval process.

In a public comment letter submitted to the agency on Friday, the DFL legislators said that interpretation of the law is “nonsensical and — more troubling — at odds with legislative intent.” The review should include a thorough analysis of whether the pesticides should be banned or restricted in Minnesota, they said, regardless of what the EPA says.

“The legislature did not intend that the Department would simply rubber stamp USEPA’s decisions,” they wrote. Signatories included Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, who is chairwoman of the House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance committee.

While the class of insecticides has been temporarily banned in Europe, pending further research related to honeybees, New York is the only state in this country that has banned them, and has for many years.

Agriculture Department officials said Monday it would be “premature” to comment on their plans for the review and that the agency is reviewing all the comments it has received, including letters from agricultural interests, beekeepers, pesticide manufacturers and citizens. But, a spokesman said in an email, state law gives Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson the authority to take any number of steps, and that could include restricting or banning their use.

The review could also result in new state guidelines or rules over how they are used, more education for consumers and applicators and training.

Others who have submitted comment letters said Minnesota should not go beyond the EPA. Bayer Crop Science, the leading manufacturer of the insecticides, encouraged the Agriculture Department to consider the “substantial information that has been developed already” regarding neonicotinoids and pollinators.