Bee advocates victorious in Maryland General Assembly

Maryland lawmakers gave the final OK to the Pollinator Protection Act.

Maryland is poised to become the first state to ban consumers from using a type of pesticide that's believed to harm bees, following final approval in the General Assembly.

Lawmakers gave the final OK to the Pollinator Protection Act on Thursday with a 98-39 vote in the House of Delegates. The House and Senate had previously approved versions of the bill.

Under the bill, consumers will not be allowed to buy pesticides that contain neonicotinoids starting in 2018. Farmers, veterinarians and certified pesticide applicators will be still be allowed to use neonicotinoids.

The bill was a top priority for environmental groups, and beekeepers were among the chief advocates for the bill, frequently appearing at the State House in Annapolis wearing their all-white beekeeping attire. Advocates say that there's evidence that neonicotinoids are contributing to die-offs of bees, which are vitally important to pollinating plants.

Ruth Berlin, executive director of the Maryland Pesticide Education Network, called the bill's passage "historic."

"We hope it also motivates other states -- and the federal government -- to reduce the use of toxic neonic pesticides," Berlin said in a statement. "Our future food supply is at stake."

The bill was opposed by the pesticide industry, the Maryland Farm Bureau, the National Federation of Independent Businesses and other groups.

As introduced, the bill also included a requirement that companies put labels on plants and seeds that were treated with neonicotinoids, but that requirement was stripped out of the bill.

The bill heads to Gov. Larry Hogan to sign or veto the measure. Hogan has not made any public statements about the bill, but the Maryland Department of Agriculture opposed the original version of the bill.

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