While there’s still not enough science to conclusively confirm that pesticides, particularly the class known as neonicotinoids or neonics, are to blame for declining bee populations, U.S. retailers are yielding to consumer concern over the chemicals and beginning to sell fewer plants that contain traces of the pesticides, says a new report by the Pesticide Research Institute.
“Less than a quarter of the trees and flowers from stores and nurseries tested by environmental activists contained pesticides at levels that could be harmful to bees,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “Two previous reports, in 2013 and 2014, revealed that more than half of the samples contained potentially dangerous levels of chemicals linked to bee deaths.”
Bees pollinate an enormous amount of food—about one-third of our food crops are the result of bee pollination. But bees around the globe are abandoning hives and dying off at alarming rates—a condition referred to as colony collapse disorder.
Neonics, which mimic nicotine-based insecticides naturally produced by some plants, have been identified among the leading suspected causes in colony collapse disorder. Earlier this year the EPA identified imidacloprid, a type of neonicotinoid, showed a potential risk to bee hives. EU regulators recently enacted a temporary ban on several types of neonics to see if bee populations recover in the absence of the chemicals.
While more than 60 retailers have made pledges to phase out neonicotinoid pesticides from their nurseries, Home Depot and Lowe’s, the two leading home improvement chains, have been called out for leading the movement away from the chemicals in their plant selections, while Wal-Mart and True Value have yet to make similar commitments.
“The market is shifting away from selling bee-killing pesticides, and retailers including Ace Hardware and True Value are lagging behind their competitors,” Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner with Friends of the Earth told the Times.
Exposure to neonicotinoids has been linked to numerous issues for bees including failure to forage, declining number of queen bees, poor hive communication, and even reduced sperm count.
But despite growing acceptance of the dangers associated with neonics, manufacturers of the chemicals, including Bayer CropScience, contend that the products are safe.
“Over its 20-year history, there has not been a single documented honey bee colony loss that can be attributed to a labeled use of imidacloprid,” Bayer CropScience spokesman Jeff Donald told the Times.
Neonicotinoids are widely used on numerous crops, including wine and table grapes, tomatoes, oranges, and cotton, “California farmers applied nearly 144 tons of imidacloprid on more than 1.5 million acres in 2013,” reports the Times. But it’s most widely used in pest control, such as termite remediation, reports the Times. More than 37 tons are used annually in homes and businesses.
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