Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Bees in a hive at the Honey Exchange in Portland, Maine. (Photo: Lauren McCauley)

Bees in a hive at the Honey Exchange in Portland, Maine. (Photo: Lauren McCauley)

Are Bee-Friendly Plants 'Poisoning Pollinators'?

Report finds that over half of 'bee-friendly' plants sold at major garden centers contain deadly neonicotinoids

Lauren McCauley

More than half of the plants being sold at major garden retailers under the guise of being "bee-friendly" are treated with bee-killing pesticides, according to a report released Wednesday.

In the largest examination to date following a landmark 2013 study, scientists with Friends of the Earth U.S. (FOE) and the Pesticide Research Institute tested plants purchased from Home Depot, Lowe's and Walmart in 18 cities across the U.S. and Canada. And despite being branded as "bee-attractive" plants, the research revealed the "widespread" presence of the neonicotinoid pesticides, or neonics, in these plants.

According to the analysis, Gardeners Beware 2014: Bee-Toxic Pesticides Found in “Bee-Friendly” Plants Sold at Garden Centers Across the U.S. and Canada (pdf), neonicotinoid residues were detected in 36 out of 71 (51 percent) of commercial nursery plants, some in concentrations high enough to "kill bees outright." Some 40 percent of the samples contained two or more varieties of neonics. 

"Unfortunately," the report authors write, "home gardeners have no idea they may actually be poisoning pollinators through their efforts to plant bee-friendly gardens."

Bees and other pollinators are essential for the production of two-thirds of the food crops humans eat every day. "Our own survival is tied closely to the survival of bees and other pollinators and we really need to listen to the body of science which is telling us to take swift action to help them," said Master Beekeeper Erin MacGregor-Forbes during a Wednesday press conference announcing the report.

Neonics, manufactured primarily by Bayer CropScience, Syngenta, and Dow AgroSciences, have been found to be a major contributing factor to the perilous and mounting problem of honey bee losses.

As MacGregor-Forbes told Common Dreamsneonic-treated plants will continue to have poisonous nectar and pollen for the life of the plant. "So perennials and trees will be poisonous for a long time and neonics will also persist in the soil and cause successive plantings in the same location to also produce nectar and pollen that are harmful to bees and other pollinators," she added.

"Our own survival is tied closely to the survival of bees and other pollinators and we really need to listen to the body of science which is telling us to take swift action to help them,"
—Master Beekeeper Erin MacGregor-Forbes

The pesticides are used as seed treatments on more than 140 crops and can either poison bees directly or cause sub-lethal effects such as "altered learning, impaired foraging and immune suppression, which exacerbates the lethality of pathogen infections and mite infestations," the report notes.

The FOE report comes on the heels of a Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the effects of neonics and found that their presence in soil poses a threat on par with that of DDT causing grave harm to entire ecosystems.

Last year, the European Union instituted a temporary ban on the three most widely used neonicotinoids. In the face of a mounting call to ban their use in the U.S., BJ's Wholesale Club—with more than 200 locations in 15 states—announced Wednesday that they will require vendors to remove neonics from plants by the end of 2014 or require warning labels for plants treated with neonics.

Environmental groups and consumers are hoping other U.S. retailers follow suit.

"We’re calling on retailers to get neonicotinoid pesticides out of their plants and off their shelves as soon as possible," said Lisa Archer, director of the Food & Technology program at FOE. "Until then, gardeners should buy organic plants to ensure the safety of bees.”

_____________________


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

Biden White House Dismisses WHO Call for Moratorium on Vaccine Boosters

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki touted U.S. vaccine donations to poor countries, but public health advocates have warned the Biden administration isn't doing nearly enough.

Jake Johnson ·


Democrats Demand Amazon and Facebook End Efforts to 'Sideline' FTC Chair Lina Khan

"Your efforts only add to the perception that you are attempting to bully your regulators, disarm the FTC, and avoid accountability rather than to strengthen ethics standards."

Jessica Corbett ·


Amnesty Follows House Dems' Letter by Imploring Biden to Close Gitmo 'Once and for All'

"This letter, signed by four House committee chairs, should send a clear message to President Biden: He has the political support to swiftly close the detention center at Guantánamo."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Truly Disturbing': Facebook Blasted for Blocking NYU Researchers Examining Ad Model and Misinformation

"It is disgraceful that Facebook is attempting to squash legitimate research that is informing the public about disinformation on their platform."

Jessica Corbett ·


After Decades-Long Grassroots Push, Key Senate Panel Votes to Repeal Iraq War Authorization

Rep. Barbara Lee, the only member of the U.S. House to vote against the AUMF in 2001, called the vote "a major victory in our fight to end forever wars."

Julia Conley ·