US study finds 'bee friendly' plants contain neonicotinoids

Many "bee friendly" home garden plants sold at Home Depot, Lowe’s and other leading US garden centres have been pre-treated with pesticides shown to harm and kill bees, according to a new, first-of-its-kind pilot study released today by Friends of the Earth and allies.

The pilot study, co-authored by the Pesticide Research Institute, found that seven of 13 samples of garden plants bought at retailers in Washington D.C., the San Francisco Bay Area and Minneapolis contain neonicotinoids.

The report, Gardeners Beware: Bee-Toxic Pesticides Found in "Bee-Friendly" Plants Sold at Garden Centers Nationwide found 54 per cent of common garden plants studied contained neonicotinoid pesticides.

In the samples with detections, concentrations ranged from 11 to 1,500 micrograms per kilogram (μg/kg or parts per billion) of plant material.

The report gave recommendations for garden retailers:

• Do not sell off-the-shelf neonicotinoid insecticides for home garden use.
• Demand neonicotinoid-free vegetable and bedding plants from suppliers and do not sell plants pre-treated with these pesticides.
• Educate your customers on why your company has made the decision to protect bees
and other pollinators.
Recommendations for wholesale nursery operations supplying retailers:
• Use only untreated seeds for plants grown from seed.
• Do not use neonicotinoid insecticide soil drenches, granules, or foliar treatments when growing vegetable and bedding plants.
• Offer neonicotinoid-free and organic vegetable and bedding plants to your customers
and label them as such.
• Inform your customers about why your nursery operation made the choice to limit the use of neonicotinoid pesticides.
• If quarantine regulations require use of systemic insecticides on certain plants that are hosts for invasive pests, treat only those plants, and minimize the number of treatments.
Use pest exclusion systems wherever possible to avoid having to treat plants.

The European Union is set to suspend the use of three neonic pesticides later this year, after a scientific review by European Food Safety Authority found that neonicotinoids pose an unacceptably high risk to bees.

Friends of the Earth food and technology program director Lisa Archer said: "Our investigation is the first to show that so called ‘bee-friendly’ garden plants contain pesticides that can poison bees, with no warning to gardeners. Bees are essential to our food system and they are dying at alarming rates. Neonic pesticides are a key part of the problem we can start to fix right now in our own backyards."

Friends of the Earth, Sum of Us and allies have sent letters, along with petitions signed by more than 175,000 people, to Lowe’s, Home Depot, Target and other garden retailers asking the stores to stop selling neonicotinoids and plants pre-treated with the pesticides. Many  of the UK’s largest garden retailers, including Homebase, B&Q and Wickes, have already stopped selling neonics. The new U.S. campaign can be found at:

"The pilot study confirms that many of the plants sold in nurseries and garden stores across the US have been pre-treated with systemic neonicotinoid insecticides, making them potentially toxic to pollinators," said Timothy Brown, PhD, of the Pesticide Research Institute. "Unfortunately, these pesticides don’t break down quickly. They remain in the plants and the soil and can continue to affect pollinators for months to years after the treatment."

The US Environmental Protection Agency has delayed action until 2018.

HTA horticulture head Raoul Curtis-Machin said this week: "It may be that when you have a bug like vine weevil we could be inflicting a lot of damage on the nursery industry and gardens if we take out the neonicotinoids used in the production. There's not enough evidence at the moment that these specific chemicals are harming bees."

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