Earlier this month, the state of Washington took steps toward banning the purchase and use of the insecticide neonicotinoid, which can be found in many greenhouses across the country.The main reason such measures are being considered, in Washington and in other areas, is the declining bee population, which some studies have linked to the use of neonicotinoid pesticides.

Of course, as with climate change and other issues related to the environment, there are competing scientific arguments, both with their own sets of charts and statistics. Greenhouse growers are caught in the middle, wanting to be responsible citizens of the earth but also wanting to use the products that provide the best protection for their crops.

One of the benefits of these pesticides is they are systemic, which means they can be applied one time in the soil, are absorbed into the roots of plants and provide protection for up to three months. If greenhouses are forced to switch to non-systemic solutions, it could result in the need for multiple applications of more chemicals, which increases human exposure. Many of these alternative products are applied via spray, which can drift to other crops and affect insects outside the target area.

For this and other reasons, proponents of neonicotinoids (or neonics) are starting to fight back. They claim that these pesticides are both safe and effective when used correctly, and the drawbacks to other products are too severe to warrant making a switch. There is  also evidence showing that their usage in Canada and Australia has not had any adverse impact on the bee population, suggesting that other factors may be at work in the United States.

The debate between growers and environmental groups will likely rage on for years before any definitive policy changes take place (or don’t take place, depending on which side has the better science on its side). Until then, greenhouse growers must make the best decisions they can for their conscience – and their crops.

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