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Daily News Archive
From August 3, 2005

Beekeepers Receive Partial Settlement For Pesticide Spraying
(Beyond Pesticides, August 3, 2005)
Minnesota beekeepers receive over $300,000 compensation from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for losses incurred from negligent pesticide spraying of carbaryl. The majority of the case is still pending against International Paper and a spray applicator.

The settlement reached between the Minnesota beekeepers and the DNR includes payment to the Minnesota beekeepers of $335,000 for damages to commercial beehives caused by the spraying of carbaryl (tradename Sevin) sprayed on trees enrolled in the Federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The insecticide Sevin is a carbamate pesticide that remains toxic to bees long after it’s applied.

As part of the settlement, the DNR agreed to help prevent future harm from the pesticide by educating landowners on carbaryl’s harmful effects to bees and advise against its use. The settlement also states that the agency will refrain from using the pesticide on CRP hybrid poplar trees and must give 90 days notice if pesticide use resumes. Sources say the DNR will be working with the North American Pollinator Protection Coalition to co-write a pollinator protection brochure to further inform landowners.

In the late 1990s, Minnesota beekeepers began to notice high mortality rates and sharp declines in honey production of commercial beehives in range of CRP trees that are regularly sprayed with various pesticides and herbicides. In March 2005, the MN Supreme Court ruled that landowners who sprayed pesticides on the tree groves could be held liable for damages to beekeepers' neighboring apiaries. (See Daily News story.) The court further upheld that regardless of prior opinions that foraging bees are "trespassers," a landowner with knowledge or notice of foraging honey bees on the property is still responsible to provide reasonable care in the application of pesticides.

While the settlement is a great victory for beekeepers in Minnesota and elsewhere, a large part of the problem still remains. Beekeepers nationwide have long had problems with the mass spraying of pesticides. The label on a pesticide toxic to bees currently states that it should not be applied if bees are either “visiting” or “actively visiting” the area, depending on the pesticide’s residual toxicity. The problem rests both in the language on the label that does not clarify what the terms actually mean, and subsequently, in the enforcement of the label.

The head pesticide enforcement officer with MN Department of Agriculture, testifying as an expert witness in the original case, held that the label was never technically violated. The officer claimed that the label states a violation would occur only when there is “a significant number of actively foraging bees” but failed to quantify his interpretation of the term significant. Beekeepers argue that such an interpretation never allows for a violation. Still, a synopsis of close to 500 applicator records of carbaryl in the contested area of Minnesota showed more than 90 percent of pesticide applications were made midday – the prime time for pollinators to be present.

One of the proposed solutions to the label bee caution problem submitted to the EPA under comments for carbaryl is for the label to avoid the quantification of bees by prohibiting pesticide application when the bloom that attracts the bees is present. (See Beyond Pesticides website for comments submitted to EPA regarding carbaryl.) According to the plaintiff, applications do not have to be made during times of bloom.

Environmentalists and others have called upon EPA to cancel the registration of carbaryl due to its excessive array of health and environmental hazards.

Bees play an essential ecological function in both agriculture and wildland areas. Alarming bee shortages have been reported in recent years and though the causes may be various, bees are known to be extremely sensitive to many pesticides used regularly in agriculture, parks, outdoor playgrounds, recreation areas, forests, and for mosquito control.

Though some compensation has been agreed upon, the beekeepers say they are continuing with the case toward putting a stop to the flagrant violations against pollinators from negligent pesticide spraying in Minnesota, with repercussions likely throughout the country.