Bee Killing Pesticides Found in 51% ‘Bee Friendly’ labeled Plants

Media Contacts
Heather Leibowitz

Friends of the Earth and Environment New York Research and Policy Center

New York, NY–Many “bee-friendly” home garden plants sold at Home Depot (NYSE: HD), Lowe’s (NYSE: LOW) and Walmart (NYSE: WMT) have been pre-treated with pesticides shown to harm and kill bees, according to a study released today by Friends of the Earth and allies, including Environment New York Research and Policy Center.

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 assuming comparable concentrations are present in the flowers’ pollen and nectar. Further, 40% of the positive samples contained two or more neonics.

“The high percentage of contaminated plants and their neonicotinoid concentrations indicate that many gardens with ‘bee-friendly plants’ may actually be harming bees,” said Heather Leibowitz, Director of Environment New York. “We are calling on retailers to get neonicotinoid pesticides out of their plants and off their shelves. Until then, gardeners should buy organic plants to ensure the safety of bees.”

The study is a larger follow up to a first-of-its-kind pilot study released by Friends of the Earth 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.

The “report raises serious questions regarding the ways in which human behavior can be harmful to nature,” added New York State Assemblyman Steven Otis. “It’s important that we avoid creating an imbalance where our actions might threaten the existence of an entire species. We must be fully aware of the risks that chemicals pose to our environment.”

“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.” 

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.

“We no longer own honeybees because our bees can no longer make honey with neonics being used rather we have welfare bees that need to be fed and sheltered but no longer work to produce honey in New York,” said Beekeeper Jim Doan from Hamlin, New York. “Bees need a clean environment to live in with clean water, food, and air.  Not one laced with chemicals in everything they eat, drink, or breathe.”

“The decline in bees is a critical issue for all humanity,” stated New York State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick. “Our survival is based on the delicate web of nature, which has been disrupted by corporate interests putting profits ahead of our very future. It is essential that we confront and stop this destruction for the sake of future generations.” 

A new meta-analysis of 800 peer-reviewed studies released yesterday by the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides – a group of global, independent scientists – confirms neonics are a key factor in bee declines and are harming 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.

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 today it will require vendors to remove neonics from plants 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 Lisa Archer, Director of the Friends of the Earth Food and Technology Program. “We urge Home Depot, Lowe’s and other major retailers to join these leaders in making our backyards and communities safe havens for bees.”

A majority of the UK’s largest garden retailers, including Homebase, B&Q and Wickes, have already voluntarily stopped selling neonics. 

“There is a growing movement around the world demanding that we protect the bees essential to our food supply,” said Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, executive director of SumOfUs. “Lowe’s and other retailers need to stop selling Bayer’s bee-killing pesticides and start being part of the solution to the bee crisis.”

“ The decline in the bee population is troubling and it is critical that we investigate the true causes, including specific pesticides, that are contributing to this decline,” added New York State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin. “I am well aware of the danger that exposure to pesticides poses, which is why I have introduced legislation to ban the use of pesticides at children’s camps and supported other legislation to curtail pesticide usage. Companies must not be allowed to cover up scientific evidence that their products pose a threat to humans or other animal populations.” 

In addition to pressuring retailers, U.S. groups are calling for the government to restrict neonics in the United States as they have in the EU. Despite more than a million public comments urging swift protections for bees, the EPA has delayed taking substantive action on neonicotinoids until registration review is complete.

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.