Study Finds Majority of “Bee-Friendly” Plants Sold at Garden Stores Contaminated with Bee-Killing Pesticides
(Beyond Pesticides, June 26, 2014) Over half of the “bee-friendly” home garden plants sold at garden supply centers such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Walmart have been pre-treated with pesticides shown to harm and kill bees, according to a study released yesterday by Friends of the Earth, Beyond Pesticides and allies.
The study, Gardeners Beware 2014, shows that 36 out of 71 (51 percent) of garden plant samples purchased at top garden retailers in 18 cities in the United States and Canada contain neonicotinoid (neonic) pesticides — a key contributor to recent bee declines. Some of the flowers contained neonic levels high enough to kill bees outright and concentrations in the flowers’ pollen and nectar are assumed to be comparable. Further, 40% of the positive samples contained two or more neonics.
Gardeners Beware 2014 is a larger follow up to a first-of-its-kind pilot study co-released by Friends of the Earth, Beyond Pesticides, and other groups last August. The new study expanded the number of samples and number of locations where plants were purchased, and also assessed the distribution of neonic pesticides between flowers and the rest of the plant.
“Our data indicate that many plants sold in nurseries and garden stores across the U.S. and Canada are being pre-treated with systemic neonicotinoid insecticides, making them potentially toxic to pollinators,” said Timothy Brown, Ph.D., co-author of the report from the Pesticide Research Institute. “Unfortunately, these pesticides don’t break down quickly so these plants could be toxic to bees for years to come.”
The Problem with Neonics
Bees and other pollinators, essential for the two-thirds of the food crops humans eat every day, are in decline in countries around the world. The European Union banned the three most widely used neonicotinoids, based on strong science indicating that neonics can kill bees outright and make them more vulnerable to pests, pathogens and other stressors.
This data adds to a new meta-analysis of 800 peer-reviewed studies released yesterday by the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides — a group of global, independent scientists — confirming neonics as a key factor in bee declines and harm to beneficial organisms essential to functional ecosystems and food production, including soil microbes, butterflies, earthworms, reptiles, and birds. The Task Force called for immediate regulatory action to restrict neonicotinoids.
Neonicotinoid insecticides have been responsible for several high profile bee kills from high doses of the pesticides, but a strong and growing body of science shows that neonics contribute to impairment in reproduction, learning and memory, hive communications and immune response at doses far below those that cause bee kills. In this study, all of the nursery plant samples where neonics were detected have the potential to harm or even kill bees.
Despite these serious issues and calls for action surrounding pollinator health and the dangers linked to neonics, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has delayed taking substantive action on neonicotinoids until registration review is complete, forcing consumers, some retailers, and even legislators to find alternative efforts to stem the tide of neonics and protect pollinators.
Advocates ask that consumers choose not only “bee-friendly” plants, meaning those plants and flowers shown to attract and sustain pollinators, but also make sure that those plants are sourced from growers and suppliers that do not apply neonics to the seed or the plant. The easiest way to ensure that seeds are not treated with neonics is to buy seeds that are certified organic or plants grown with organic practices. To assist consumers in making the best choice for pollinator protections, Beyond Pesticides has launched the Pollinator-Friendly Seed Directory, a comprehensive list of companies that sell organic seeds to the general public. Toxic pesticides harmful to bees, including neonics, are not permitted in seeds certified organic, which display the USDA Organic label on their packaging. Included in this directory are seeds for vegetables, flowers, and herbs. As bees suffer serious declines in their populations, we urge people and communities to plant habitat that supports pollinator populations, and have provided information to facilitate this in our BEE Protective Habitat Guide, as well as our how-to guide on managing landscapes with pollinators in mind.
“The high percentage of contaminated plants and their neonicotinoid concentrations suggest that this problem continues to be widespread,” said Lisa Archer, director of the Food & Technology program at Friends of the Earth-U.S. “Most gardeners have no idea that their gardens may be a source of harm to bees. We’re calling on retailers to get neonicotinoid pesticides out of their plants and off their shelves as soon as possible. Until then, gardeners should buy organic plants to ensure the safety of bees.”
While a majority of the UK’s largest garden retailers, including Homebase, B&Q and Wickes, have already voluntarily stopped selling neonics, U.S. retailers lag behind.
More than half a million Americans have signed petitions demanding that Lowe’s and Home Depot stop selling neonics. In the face of mounting evidence and growing consumer demand, nearly a dozen nurseries, landscaping companies and retailers, are taking steps to eliminate bee harming pesticides from their garden plants and their stores. BJ’s Wholesale Club, with more than 200 locations in 15 states, announced June 25, 2014 that it will require its vendors to disallow neonic in plant production by the end of 2014 and/or require warning labels for plants treated with neonics.
“A growing number of responsible retailers have decided to be part of the solution to the bee crisis and are taking bee-harming pesticides off their shelves,” said Archer. “We urge Home Depot, Lowe’s and other major retailers to join these leaders in making our backyards and communities safe havens for bees.”
Legislative and Executive Action
In 2013, U.S Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced the Saving America’s Pollinators Act, which seeks to suspend the use of neonics on bee-attractive plants until EPA reviews all available data, including field studies. This bill has bi-partisan support and 68 cosponsors. Last week, President Obama announced a federal strategy to protect pollinators and called on EPA to assess the effect of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on bees and other pollinators within 180 days.
Communities Take Action
Monday night, the city of Spokane, WA officially voted to discontinue the use of neonicotinoids by government officials on city owned property. The city is now the second in the nation, following the City of Eugene’s ban in February, to take action to protect pollinators in the absence of action by the federal legislation. In California, beekeepers and local advocates are supporting a bill that would force the state of California to complete its evaluation of neonicotinoid pesticides, years ahead of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) review which is not scheduled to be completed before 2018. Other communities joining the movement include Bee Safe Neighborhoods in Boulder, Colorado, and Minnesota, which passed a bill to label garden plants for pollinators. In Maryland, a bill containing language to restrict neonicotinoid pesticides was unfortunately recently withdrawn, after an “unfavorable report” by the environmental committee. In New York and New Jersey, language has been drafted in the state legislature to restrict neonicotinoids in various ways.
Join Us and Other Groups to Take Action for Pollinators
Friends of the Earth U.S., the Pesticide Research Institute and SumOfUs, released the report with American Bird Conservancy, Atlanta Audubon Society, Bee Safe Neighborhoods, Beyond Pesticides, Beyond Toxics, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Ecology Center, Environment New York, Environment Texas, Environmental Youth Council, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth Canada, Georgia Organics, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Maryland Pesticide Network, Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, Organic Consumers Association, Pesticide Action Network North America, Toxics Action Center, Toxic Free North Carolina, Turner Environmental Law Clinic, and The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in the following cities: Ann Arbor, MI, Atlanta, GA, Austin, TX, Boulder, CO, Boston, MA, Baltimore area, MD, Eugene, OR, London, Ontario, Minneapolis, MN, Montreal, Quebec, New York, New York, Portland, ME, Raleigh, NC, Sacramento, CA, San Francisco, CA, St. Augustine, FL, Vancouver, British Columbia and Washington, DC.
We urge you and other pollinator supporters to continue to pressure retailers, legislators, and other government officials to take meaningful action to protect pollinators. Visit Beyond Pesticides’ BEE Protective webpage to learn about more about pollinator protection and see what you can do to help.
Source: Friends of the Earth
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides