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California Study Finds Widely-Used Pesticide Harmful To Bees

Julia Mitric / Capital Public Radio

A new state of California study says a common group of pesticides could be harmful to bees, but citrus growers say they depend on it to protect their crops.

Neonicotinoids, or neonics, are one of the most widely-used pesticides in the country. They’re used on crops from tomatoes and berries to almonds and oranges.

Neonics are banned for outdoor use in Europe, and Canada is looking to do the same. California announced in January it won’t consider new applications by pesticide companies that would expand the use of it.

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation has released a report saying neonics are harmful to bees and other pollinators. The report took a conservative approach, applying the maximum legally-allowed amount of neonics to test its danger to bees.

Jonathan Evans, Environmental Health Legal Director at the Center for Biological Diversity, says the state needs to ban neonics entirely and farmers need to get on board.  

“We have some of our agriculture producers that are really stuck on a pesticide treadmill,” Evans says. "They’re not really looking at the long term sustainability of the ecosystem. They’re more focused on a short-term profit.”

Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, an industry association, says citrus growers are abiding by state-mandated regulations of neonics in order to accommodate the bees.

“I don’t think we’re going to do anymore accommodating than that,” Nelsen says, “because then we start destroying our economic viability.”

California citrus growers use neonics to help kill the Asian citrus psyllid, an insect that causes citrus plants to get Huanglongbing, an incurable disease. In 2005, the psyllid was discovered in Florida and has since been responsible for decimating the state’s citrus industry.

Nelsen says he doesn’t want that to happen to California’s farmers.

“If it’s a choice between them or us,” Nelsen says, “I’m going to protect us.”

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation says it’s looking for a balanced approach to deal with neonicotinoids that can protect bees while also maintaining citrus groves and other crops.

Copyright 2018 Capital Public Radio