Warning: Bee killing pesticides in “bee-friendly” plants

Bumblebee with loaded pollen baskets

Bumblebee with loaded pollen baskets

by Catherine Haug, August 15, 2013

(photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

In my recent post, What is killing bees?, I suggest planting “a variety of non-GMO flowering plants, especially native plants, in your gardens and landscape.” While this is still an excellent recommendation, please be advised to select your plants carefully. A new report by Friends of the Earth (Gardeners Beware: Bee Report) has found that many bee-friendly plants sold at national big-box stores like Home Depot and Lowes are contaminated with bee-killing neonicotenoids (pesticides) in their pollen. How can that be?

How Neonics kill

Neonicotenoids (neonics) are not sprayed on the growing plant, but rather on the ungerminated seeds. These poisonous pesticides are taken up by the seed and then spread throughout the plant (including the pollen) after germination, much like nicotine spreads from the tobacco seed into the growing tobacco plant. Any pest that eats the plant then takes up the pesticide and dies. Any bee bringing the pollen back to the hive brings the poison into the hive. Repeated exposure to this toxin impairs the bees’ immunity  to fungus and parasite infections, and they eventually die. By the millions.

Friends of the Earth conducted a pilot study to determine the extent of neonicotinoid contamination of common nursery plants purchased at retail garden centers in cities across the U.S. This is the first investigation of neonicotinoid insecticide concentrations in “bee-friendly” nursery plants sold to consumers at garden centers in cities across America. The findings indicate that bee-friendly nursery plants sold at U.S. retailers may contain systemic pesticides at levels that are high enough to cause adverse effects on bees and other pollinators — with no warning to consumers.

You can read the entire report at Gardeners Beware: Bee Report. It includes this recommendation for consumers: “Grow bee-safe: Purchase organic plant starts or grow your plants from untreated seeds in organic potting soil for your home vegetable and flower gardens.”

A new bill to save our pollinators

Despite millions of comments to protect bees from this poison,  the EPA has delayed action until 2018. In response, two US Representatives (Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. and John Conyers, D-Mich.) have introduced H.R. 2692, the

Save American’s Pollinators Act. It “seeks to suspend the use of neonics on bee-attractive plants until EPA reviews all of the available data, including field studies.” From Bee die-offs: New tests find bee-killing pesticides in ‘bee-friendly’ plants from garden centers nationwide:

“Rep. Blumenauer introduced the bill after 50,000 bumblebees died in a Target parking lot in Wilsonville, Ore. when the neonic pesticide dinotefuran was applied to nearby trees. The bee massacre also prompted the Oregon Department of Agriculture to prohibit further cosmetic use of pesticides containing dinotefuran for the remainder of 2013.”

If you wish to send a comment to congress, you can go to: Tell Congress to support the Save America’s Pollinators Act on the Friends of the Earth website. Or write your own letter (see Contact our Government).

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