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Bill to protect bees from pesticide advances in Maryland Senate

A bill that will limit the use of pesticides that are believed to harm bees is moving forward in the Maryland General Assembly.

The Senate's Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee voted Thursday to approve the bill, which would limit the use of pesticides containing neonicotinoids to certified applicators, farmers and veterinarians. Starting in 2018, consumers would not be able to buy the pesticides.

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The committee removed part of the bill that would require labels on plants and seeds treated with neonicotinoids, according to supporters of the bill, which is known as the Pollinator Protection Act.

It will next be considered by the full Senate.

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Studies have shown that neonicotinoids -- also called neonics -- contribute to bee mortality as well as declines in other pollinators such as birds and butterflies, according to supporters, who are organized as the Smart on Pesticides Maryland coalition.

Bees have a role in pollinating the food supply, including many fruits, vegetables, almonds and coffee, according to advocates.

"The science clearly shows that neonics impair bee immunity, behavior and overall functioning," April Boulton, director of Hood College's environmental biology program, said in a statement. "Given that managed bees are our most important pollinators, both economically and ecologically, this deserves our attention now."

Maryland's beekeepers lost 61 percent of their colonies, on average, between 2014 and 2015, according to a survey from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nationally, beekeepers lost 42 percent of their colonies, on average, compared to 34 percent the previous year.

There are about 900 beekeepers in Maryland who manage 9,000 colonies.

The House of Delegates has not yet acted on its version of the bill.

A similar bill introduced last year did not receive a vote in the House or the Senate.

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