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To Protect Honeybees, EPA Seeks New Restrictions on Pesticide Use

If honeybees are busy pollinating large, blooming croplands, farmers wanting to spray toxic pesticides will soon have to buzz off, the Environmental Protection Agency says.

A federal rule proposed Thursday would create temporary pesticide-free zones when certain plants are in bloom around bees that are trucked from farm to farm by professional beekeepers, which make up the majority of honeybees in the U.S. The pesticide halt would only happen during the time the flowers are in bloom and the bees are there, and only on the property where the bees are working, not neighboring land.

101: America's Declining Honeybee Population 0:55

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The rule applies to virtually all insecticides, more than 1,000 products involving 76 different chemical compounds, said Jim Jones, EPA's assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention. It involves nearly all pesticides, including the much-debated class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, he said.

The idea is "to create greater space between chemicals that are toxic to bees and the bees," Jones told The Associated Press. This is part of a new push by the Obama administration to try to reverse dramatic declines in bee populations.

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The new rule "doesn't eliminate (pesticide) exposure to honeybees, but it should reduce it," said University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum. "It may not be ideal, but it's the best news in about 120 years. In concept, in principle, this is a big policy change."

The EPA proposal doesn't apply to residential pesticide use, nor home beekeeping. If all goes according to plan, new rules and new pesticide labels will be ready for spring 2016, Jones said.