|(Unity, ME) - The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) took part in a national research project showing that 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 that harm and kill bees. Friends of the Earth U.S., the Pesticide Research Institute and SumOfUs coordinated the study and collaborated with MOFGA and dozens of other groups that conducted pesticide sampling across the United States and Canada.
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 – believed to be key contributors 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 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 high percentage of contaminated plants and their neonicotinoid concentrations indicate that many gardens with bee-friendly plants may actually be harming bees," said Heather Spalding, Deputy Director of MOFGA. "We are calling on retailers to get neonicotinoid pesticides out of their plants and off their shelves. Until then, gardeners should request untreated plants from their garden centers. Purchasing certified organic plants is the best way to ensure the safety of bees."
Local gardeners can find Maine-grown, certified organic flowers, seedlings, and perennial plants online at http://www.mofgacertification.org/?page_id=1492.
"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."
MOFGA purchased poppies and English daisies from Home Depot in Augusta, and scabiosa (a.k.a. pincushion flower) and coreopsis from Lowes, also in Augusta. All but the poppies tested positive for neonicotinoids.
"So many people go out to buy flowers at garden centers thinking they will support the health of bees", said Elizabeth Sugg, a MOFGA volunteer who helped with the sampling research. "It's shocking to learn that your efforts to help bees actually may be making them sick or killing them because the plants you're buying are secretly poisoned with pesticides."
Elizabeth Sugg takes samples of scabiosa (pincushion flower) purchased at Lowes in Augusta.
Bees and other pollinators, essential for 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.
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 Archer. "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."
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.
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 at www.BeeAction.org.
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 Gardeners 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.