Plants marketed by major retailers as bee-friendly have been shown to contain fewer pesticides, but some still have high enough concentrations to hurt or kill bees, according to a report published on Tuesday.
Gardeners Beware 2016, published by Friends of the Earth and
the Pesticide Research Institute, is a follow-up to testing for neonicotinoid
pesticides conducted in 2013 and 2014.
“A neonictoinoid is an insecticide that has the same mechanism
of action as nicotine,” said Susan Kegley, lead author on the study and CEO
of the Pesticide Research Institute. “It’s very very toxic to bees and will
kill them with very very small doses.”
The Gardeners Beware study found that 23 percent of
flowers and trees tested contain neonicotinoid at levels that can
harm or kill bees, down from 54 percent in 2013.
“For the average customer, the news is that it’s good news,”
Kegley said. “Customers made their voices heard and said, 'we don’t want to be
killing bees,' and Home Depot and Lowes responded with policies.”
Both Home Depot and Lowes have committed to reducing or
eliminating neonicotinoid insecticides in the plants they sell. According to
Gardeners Beware, more than 65 garden retailers, nurseries, and landscaping
companies have done the same.
According to the Lowe’s 2015 Social Responsibility Report,
the retail chain announced plans to phase out the sale of products that contain
neonicotinoid pesticides within four years. The Healthy Gardening section of
Home Depot’s website states that over 80 percent flowing plants sold by Home
Depot are not treated with neonicotinoids and that they will completely phase
out that insecticide on live plants by 2018.
Other retailers have been less quick to respond.
“Walmart recognizes the importance of pollinator health in the
environment and wants to provide the best products for our customers’ needs,” said Ragan Dickens, director of sustainability communications at Walmart. “As we continue to rely upon the Environmental Protection
Agency to review and authorize effective, safe chemistry, we also advocate for
the continuous improvement of environmentally friendly products for our
The company is studying the issue, Dickens said, but Walmart does not yet have a plan in place to reduce neonicotinoids. A search of Walmart’s 2016 Global Responsibility Report
showed no mention of neonicotinoids.
Ace Hardware and True Value did not respond to requests for comment.
According to a 2014 press release from the White House,
pollinators contribute more than $24 billion to the U.S. economy, and
honey bees alone contribute more than $15 billion.
Dr. Carol Armatis, who has been raising bees in Maine for about 30 years, said she has seen firsthand the effect
pesticides can have on bees.
“I work in a greenhouse during the late winter and
early spring. They use pesticides and fungicides and, unfortunately, I see a
number of dead honeybees on the ground,” Armatis said. “They shouldn’t be dying
in the spring.”
Not all bees exposed to neonicotinoids die. In small does,
neonicotinoids impair the immune system and reproductive ability. They can also
make it difficult for bees to navigate, which means bees who have flown out
foraging can’t find their way back to the hive.
Neonicotinoids were introduced in the mid-nineties
as a replacement for pesticides that were even more toxic to humans, Kegley said. Today, many pollinators are focusing on less
toxic chemicals and alternative methods to control pest
“They're using biological controls, so they use bugs that
eat other bugs,” Dickens said. “Bugs build resistance to pesticides, but
there's no resistance to being eaten.”