Environmentalists have been warning about the toxic effects of pesticides on pollinators, but in our efforts to grow plants that will support a variety of species who are critical to food production and a healthy ecosystem, we might actually be hurting them.
A lot of attention has been given to the use of pesticides, such as neonicotinoids (neonics), in agriculture and how they’re contributing to bee declines, but another major source of these toxins has been found in our supposedly bee-friendly gardens.
Gardener’s Beware 2014, a new expanded study from the Pesticide Research Institute and Friends of the Earth, offers a comprehensive overview of how our gardens have become a source of neonics after researchers sampled dozens of common bee-friendly plants, including daisies, marigolds, poppies and lavender, that are being sold at major stores in the U.S. and Canada.
They found that 36 out of 71 (51 percent) of garden plant samples contained neonics, which are poisonous to bees, butterflies and other pollinators. They also found that 40 percent of the positive samples contained two or more neonics.
Scientists agree that while there are other factors playing into the decline of pollinators, these chemicals are clearly harmful whether low doses are weakening them and making them more vulnerable to disease, pests or other stressors, or have levels high enough to kill them directly. As Wired notes, their use is especially serious when it comes to wild pollinators who live in smaller hives or groups that can be easily impacted by contamination.
“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 plants could be toxic to bees for years to come.”
Worse is that these plants are being sold to unwitting consumers at major stores, including Walmart, Lowe’s and Home Depot, and are labeled as bee-friendly, when they are clearly not.
Pollinator advocates are trying to tackle the issue from a few fronts, from urging the EPA to crack down on their use and pushing for legislation that will stop their use to asking stores to stop selling them. So far there there have been a few positive steps taken to protect pollinators, that include the White House also announcing that it will be setting up a Pollinator Health Task Force dedicated to reducing the threat to our pollinators and some stores responding positively to calls for change.
Last week, the Home Depot said it will take steps to ensure that toxic plants are clearly labeled and is looking into whether or not neonics can be eliminated entirely from their nurseries. BJ’s Wholesale Club also intends to require its vendors to provide plants free of neonics by the end of 2014, or make sure products are labeled “caution around pollinators.”
As for gardeners, there are a few things organizations that are advocating for pollinators are urging us to do to make our landscapes pollinator friendly. From disposing of pesticides (especially those on this list) and pledging to make our yard a Pesticide Free Zone to asking contractors and landscaping companies to make sure they don’t use them and planting a variety of pollinator friendly plants.
In June, Beyond Pesticides released a Pollinator-Friendly Seed Directory that offers a comprehensive list of companies that sell organic seeds, including vegetables, flowers and herbs, directly to the public and also has a how-to-guide on managing landscapes to support pollinators.
More Ways to Help
We can also help pollinators by encouraging our local municipalities to support them by passing resolutions that will kick pesticides out of our public spaces and communities, in addition to asking our local garden centers not to sell products containing neonics and to require their suppliers to stop offering pre-treated mixes and plants.
We can also tell the EPA not to approve insecticides, unless it can prove they’re safe for pollinators.
Lastly, we can give pollinators a voice by signing and sharing the petition asking our reps to support the Save America’s Pollinators Act, which will suspend seed treatment, soil application and other uses of pesticides on plants that attract pollinators until all of the science is reviewed by the EPA and the short and long term effects can be studied in the field.
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