Editorials

NC should look hard at effects of insecticide on bees and the environment

The NC Pesticide Board will review what experts say about the effects of neonicotinoid-based insecticides on bees, other pollinators, birds and marine life in estuaries near farmland.
The NC Pesticide Board will review what experts say about the effects of neonicotinoid-based insecticides on bees, other pollinators, birds and marine life in estuaries near farmland. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Few people are aware of the North Carolina Pesticide Board, a board established in the 1970s under legislation that seeks to control the use of insecticides in the environment. But many in North Carolina may be affected by how well this obscure panel assesses the hazards posed by relatively new and supposedly safer insecticides that use a class of chemicals known as neonicotinoids.

One use of neonicotinoids is as a seed coating. The plant that emerges from the seeds takes up the chemical, rendering the whole plant toxic to many pests. This approach has reduced the amount of poisons sprayed to protect crops, but evidence is emerging that much of the seed coating also gets into the wider environment. It can affect crucial plant pollinators, such as bees, and threaten marine species that live in waters near agricultural areas.

The pesticide board will begin taking a closer look at neonicotinoids when it meets at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday in Raleigh at the Gov. James Martin Building at the State Fairgrounds. The board, which includes representatives of farming and the chemical industry, is taking a guarded approach. It will collect comments from experts and assess whether it should take action or recommend legislation to more tightly control use of the chemicals.

Allen Scarborough, the pesticide board’s vice chairman, an entomologist and an employee of Bayer CropScience, a manufacturer of neonicotinoid-based insecticides, says there is no apparent cause for alarm about the chemicals, “but we want to hear from the experts.”

Toxic Free NC, an advocacy group, says the situation is serious for North Carolina, especially in the northeastern part of the state where neonicotinoid runoff can pollute estuaries that are important nurseries for blue crabs, fish and birds.

Preston Peck, a policy advocate for the group, says North Carolina does not have the systems in place to monitor neonicotinoids in the environment, and now, “It’s out there, but we don’t how much is out there.”

Maryland has taken steps to keep the chemicals out of Chesapeake Bay. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton recently issued an executive order that a “verification of need” be obtained prior to the use of a neonicotinoid pesticide and recommended legislation to regulate the use of coated seeds. .

The N.C. Pesticide Board was created to prevent damage to the environment, not to prevent damage to agribusiness or chemical companies. It has taken a positive step in agreeing to review the issue. Now it must follow the information where it leads.

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