(Beyond Pesticides, March 11, 2015) The White House’s recommendations for pollinator-friendly landscaping at federal facilities are “largely unachievable,” according to trade groups AmericanHort and the Society of American Florists. The groups believe that growing plants that attract and feed honey bees, wild bees, butterflies and other pollinators without a reliance on persistent, systemic and toxic pesticides that can harm them is “not a viable recommendation.” This comes in spite of several initiatives already taken by nurseries across the country to limit or restrict the use of systemic neonicotinoid pesticides on nursery and ornamental plant production.
Last fall, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) announced new guidelines for federal agencies to incorporate pollinator friendly practices at federal facilities and on federal lands.
Critical to pollinator health within these guidelines is a requirement that agencies should “[a]cquire seeds and plants from nurseries that do not treat their plants with systemic insecticides.” Further, the document states that, “Chemical controls that can adversely affect pollinator populations should not be applied in pollinator habitats. This includes herbicides, broad spectrum contact and systemic insecticides, and some fungicides.” Concurrent with CEQ’s announcement, the General Services Administration (GSA) also stated it is in the process of internally reviewing pollinator friendly guidelines for facility standards at “all new project starts.” Systemic pesticides like neonicotinoids have been linked to bee decline, and are noted for their contamination of pollen and nectar, as well as their persistence in soil and water. Visit What the Science Shows.
But in a letter submitted last month to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which is spearheading the White House’s directive to establish a federal Pollinator Health Task Force to respond to declining pollinator populations, AmericanHort and the Society of American Florists took issue with CEQ’s suggestion that agencies avoid plants treated with systemic insecticides.
According to the groups, the recommendation in CEQ’s guidelines for pesticide restriction would impede the use of neonicotinoids, and would clash with state and federal requirements to treat for invasive pests. “We are concerned that some of the guidance recommendations provided in the ‘pollinator’ addendum are largely unachievable by industry, as they are not reflective of federal and state regulatory requirements and do not account for the significant pest challe nges that our segment of agriculture faces,” the letter states.
The groups believe that foregoing neonicotinoids could violate legal requirements to keep nurseries free of “all injurious insects,” including the emerald ash borer, the Asian longhorned beetle and other pests. Recommending that plant material be sourced only from suppliers that can “verify no insecticide treatments” is not a viable recommendation and could influence some growers to take greater risk and potentially spread problematic and invasive pests and disease on federal properties,” they wrote.
The letter also questions the guidance’s definition of integrated pest management (IPM), especially methods that promote use of biological controls, like predatory insects, to protect plants. CEQ in its guidance notes that IPM, “places an emphasis on the reduction of pesticide use and the implementation of preventative and alternative control measures.” However, the groups believe that CEQ’s IPM recommendations alter and expand the legislative definition of IPM by highlighting one perspective of IPM above other considerations. The letter states this “is not appropriate and is not reflective of the intent of IPM. Risks and benefits must be taken into consideration when making these decisions and the CEQ language suggests otherwise.” The letter requests edits to the definition of IPM in CEQ’s guidance document and also a removal of statements regarding sourcing plant material from growers that have not used insecticides or systemic insecticides and replace with statements for sourcing of plant material from growers who have adopted an IPM program in their plant production practices.
Plants can be grown without neonicotinoids and other systemic pesticides
It is a common myth perpetuated by the pesticide, agricultural, and horticultural industry that growing plants without pesticides cannot be done. But while these two national industry groups charge that creating pollinator habitat without toxic inputs cannot be done to protect pollinators, several smaller nurseries and retail outlets have already pledged to not use systemic neonicotinoids to grow their plants and protect pollinators. Focused on their owe operations, Behnke Nurseries Co. in Maryland has issued a policy statement to their stores that prohibits the application of neonicotinoids to its plants and recommends using least-toxic alternatives. Bachman’s 21 locations in Minnesota are eliminating neonicotinoids on their nursery stock and outdoor plants. Taking it to the next level, Bachman’s is also working with suppliers to discontinue the use of neonicotinoids. Cavano’s Perennials, MD, Blooming Nursery, OR, North Creek Nurseries, PA, Suncrest Nurseries Inc, CA, Desert Canyon Farm, CO, and others have either discontinued or never used neonicotinoid pesticides in their nursery operations. Additionally, BJ’s Wholesale Club (over 200+ locations) is asking its vendors to discontinue neonicotinoid use. Home Depot also has plans to work with its suppliers to transition from neonicotinoid reliance.
Beyond Pesticides also has a comprehensive directory of companies and organizations that sell organic seeds and plants. Included in this directory are seeds for vegetables, flowers, and herbs, as well as live plants and seedlings.
Mounting scientific evidence points to the role of pesticides in bee declines across the globe, especially to neonicotinoids (eg imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam) which, even at low levels, have been shown to impair foraging, navigational and learning behavior in bees, as well as suppress their immune system to the point of making them susceptible to pathogens and parasites. Last week, beekeepers, farmers, businesses and environmental advocates rallied in front of the White House to deliver over 4 million petition signatures that call on the Obama administration to protect pollinators, and over 125 groups sent a letter to the White House.
While industry deflection tactics are working to shift focus away from their pesticide products, local efforts provide a promising opportunity for communities across the United States to stand up for pollinators. Eugene (Oregon), Skagway (Alaska), Ontario (Canada), and the European Union have all instituted either permanent or temporary bans on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. With one in three bites of food reliant on bees and other insects for pollination, the decline of honey bees and other pollinators due to pesticides, and other human-made causes demands immediate action. Visit Beyond Pesticides’ BEE Protective webpage to learn more about the issue and what can be done to protect pollinators.