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Study: “Bee-friendly” plants sold in stores are anything but

Gardeners Beware FB - R3-1Turns out many home garden plants billed as bird and bee-friendly have been pre-treated with a class of insecticides that’s harmful to both, according to a new study released today by Friends of the Earth and allies, including the Turner Environmental Law Clinic, Georgia Organics, and the Atlanta Audubon Society.

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 that many gardens sell as ‘bee-friendly plants’ may actually be harming bees and other crucial pollinators,” said Georgia Organics Director of Programs Michael Wall. “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, which pollinate 70 percent of the crops humans consume. ”

Several U.S. groups are calling for for the government to restrict neonics in the United States as they have in the European Union, and half a million Americans have signed a petition demanding that Lowe’s and Home Depot stop selling plants that have been treated with these types of pesticides. Full release after the jump.

Bird and Bee-Killing Pesticides in 51% of Plants Sold As “Bee-Friendly” in U.S. Garden Centers

ATLANTA, JUNE 25, 2014 – Many “bee-friendly” home garden plants sold at Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Walmart have been pre-treated with pesticides shown to harm and kill bees, according to astudy released today by Friends of the Earth and allies, including the Turner Environmental Law Clinic, Georgia Organics, and the Atlanta Audubon Society.

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 that many gardens sell as ‘bee-friendly plants’ may actually be harming bees and other crucial pollinators,” said Georgia Organics Director of Programs Michael Wall. “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, which pollinate 70 percent of the crops humans consume.”
“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 flowers could be toxic to bees for years to come.”

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.

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.

“The negative impact of neonicotinoids doesn’t stop at bees,” says Nikki Belmonte, Executive Director of Atlanta Audubon Society. “We’re concerned about the potential debilitating effects on birds that have been brought to light by the American Bird Conservancy. There are dozens of bird species in Georgia, including songbirds and hummingbirds, that depend on nectar and seeds from the plants being treated, or ingest invertebrates that live on these plants or among the soil they’re planted in.”

According to the March 2013 America Bird Conservancy’s report, “The Impact of the Nation’s Most Widely Used Insecticides on Birds”:

  • Small non-lethal doses are likely to cause partial paralysis and other sub-lethal effects in birds.
  • Because the neonicotinoids are systemic and persistent in soils, and because several are used as seed treatment chemicals, they are available to birds in a chronic fashion, making their potential to affect reproduction an even greater concern.
  • The amount of insecticide adhering to the average corn (maize) seed can result in acute intoxications in birds … a single seed may prove lethal for an average-sized bird (e.g. blue jay-sized) likely to be picking up whole corn seed from seeded fields.
  • Based on our current understanding and risk assessment procedures in place, the neonicotinoids as a group have a high potential to affect avian reproduction.

“Protecting pollinators is not just the responsibility of retailers.  We all can make a difference,” said Mindy Goldstein, director of the Turner Environmental Law Clinic at Emory Law School.  “In the coming months, we look forward to working with universities, municipalities, and other institutional purchasers around Atlanta to develop purchasing policies that will significantly reduce the amount of bee-harming pesticides found on plants in our parks, campuses, and greenspaces.”

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, including BJ’s Wholesale Club with more than 200 locations in 15 states, are taking steps to eliminate bee-harming pesticides from their garden plants and their stores.

“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 Food & Technology program at Friends of the Earth-U.S. “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.

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.

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The Report Gardeners Beware 2014: Bee-Toxic Pesticides Found in “Bee-Friendly” Plants Sold at Garden Centers in the U.S. and Canada, tips for consumers and a complete list of the co-releasing organizations and cities where plant samples were gathered can be found atwww.BeeAction.org.

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.

Friends of the Earth – U.S., founded by David Brower in 1969, is the U.S. voice of the world’s largest federation of grassroots environmental groups, with a presence in 74 countries. Friends of the Earth works to defend the environment and champion a more healthy and just world.www.FoE.org.

Pesticide Research Institute is an environmental consulting firm providing research, analysis, technical services and expert consulting on the chemistry and toxicology of pesticides.www.pesticideresearch.com

SumOfUs.org is a global movement of consumers, investors, and workers all around the world, standing together to hold corporations accountable for their actions and forge a new, sustainable and just path for our global economy.   www.SumOfUs.org

Friends of the Earth U.S., the Pesticide Research Institute and SumOfUs, are releasing the report today with American Bird Conservancy, 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, Green America, Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association, Maryland Pesticide Network, Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, Organic Consumers Association, Pesticide Action Network North America, Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, Save our Environment, 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.

  1. Milly Butler says:

    Have always just shpopped at bargain mega stores for plans but am stopping that. Just don’t know where to go to purchase plants locally. Do y’all publish a list for Savannah?

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