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Bachman's ditches insecticide as concern for honeybees grows

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One of Minnesota's signature businesses is taking a big step to protect one of nature's signature insects: bees.

Bachman's, MPR reports, is now growing plants without the use of neonicotinoids – a type of insecticide that causes paralysis and death in insects such as the honeybee, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says.

Agricultural production has been threatened due to a decade-long decline in honeybees. Bee populations are less than half of what they were in the 1970s, according to Kiplinger. Scientists have speculated on four general causes of Colony Collapse Disorder, or the die-off of honeybees, one being possible exposure to pesticides.

Though there is no proven connection yet. In March, a group of Minnesota beekeepers asked state agriculture officials to suspend the use of corn seeds treated with certain pesticides – they say the neonicotinoids are killing their bees.

Dale Bachman, the company's chief executive, told MPR removing neonicotinoids from Bachman's-grown plants is a precautionary move; he'd rather ban their use now and find out later the insecticide had no effect, than continue using them despite potential dangers.

According to WCCO, plants that Bachman's gets from other suppliers could still use the inescticide, but the company is working with suppliers to find alternatives. The station says Bachman's is also speaking with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture about developing best practices.

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Why the worry?

Honeybees, the University of Minnesota's Bee Lab explains, "play a keystone role in the productivity of agriculture and the beauty of our world through the pollination of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and flowers." Basically, a large number of plants need bees to pollinate them. If bees keep dying, they can't get to all the needy plants – meaning the plants can't grow.

What food will this affect? The Bee Lab says humans' staple grains – such as corn, rice and wheat – are pollinated via wind so will likely be OK. But fruits, vegetables and plants used in meat and dairy production rely on bee pollination.

In February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture began offering money to farmers and ranchers in the Upper Midwest to to reseed pastures with alfalfa, clover and other cover crops that appeal to livestock and provide a quality habitat for bees.

Minnesota Daily put together a video about the Bee Lab a few years ago. Watch it here.

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