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Suspected Bee-Killing Chemical to be Phased Out by Top US Seller

FILE - Bees in their hive.
FILE - Bees in their hive.

The top U.S. seller of garden pesticides for consumer use is phasing out a chemical widely thought to be contributing to the global die-off of honeybees.

Ortho announced Tuesday it will eliminate the chemical known as neonics in three brands of pest control sprays and powders for trees, roses and other flowers by next year, and in all its products by 2021.

"The decision comes after careful consideration regarding the range of possible threats to honeybees and other pollinators," Ortho general manager Tim Martin said Tuesday. "While agencies in the United States are still evaluating the overall impact of neonics on pollinator populations, it is time for Ortho to move on."

The Environmental Protection Agency is still studying the effects of neonics on bees and butterflies. Other large pesticide manufacturers say all the research to date may be overstated.

But many scientists are convinced that certain pesticides are contributing to killing off honeybee populations around the world by attacking the bees' central nervous systems.

Honeybees are responsible for pollinating 80 percent of many fruits and vegetables that are part of the human diet and essential for good health.

Ortho is encouraging other companies to follow its lead. It also says it is joining with a group called the Pollinator Stewardship Council to promote bee habitats and educate consumers on the proper use of pesticides.

Last week, the legislature in the state of Maryland passed a law banning consumers from using pesticides with neocins, declaring that only professionals, including farmers and veterinarians, can apply such treatments.

If Maryland's governor signs the bill, Maryland would be the first state in the nation to partially ban neonics.