Submitted April 25, 2014--not printed
In August of 2013 a report entitled, “Gardeners Beware,” was published outlining the findings of a study (conducted by the Institute for Pesticide Research, Center for Food Safety, and Friends of the Earth), on plants bought in commercial garden centers across the country. The results should disturb us all deeply. Residues from a type of pesticide known as neonicotiniods were found in 54% of the plants from big box garden centers (Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Orchard Supply Hardware) in Washington DC, San Francisco, and the Twin Cities. NBC covered the story when it broke last August.
So what? What are neonicotinoids anyway?
Neonicotinoids are lethal to bees and other pollinators. Even at sub-lethal amounts, neonicotinoids, also referred to as neoincs, can cause navigation failure, fertility problems, and even decrease immune function in bees.
I was curious about the plants in our local garden centers, so I called Metrolina Greenhouses in North Carolina. Metrolina supplies the annuals, fruits, and vegetables to Lowe’s, Sam’s Club, and Wal-Mart in our area. They were kind enough to answer my questions about what types of pesticides they use. In their greenhouses they use not one, but four different neonicotinoid pesticides at various times throughout the growing season. The problem is not with chemicals on the outside of the plants. Neonics are systemic pesticides. They are taken up by the roots of the plant and them persist in the stem, leaves, petals, and pollen. Neonics cannot be washed off.
They use three different brands of commercial pesticides; Marathon, Tristar, and Flagship. The actual chemicals found in these commercial pesticides are acetamiprid, dinotefuran, thiamethoxam, and imidacloprid. The use of two of these chemicals, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid, has been suspended throughout the European Union. However, here in the US, the EPA will not be studying these chemicals and their environmental impact until 2018 when neonicotinoids are scheduled for Registration review. It is worth noting that last June the Oregon Department of Agriculture temporarily banned the use of 18 pesticides containing dinotefuran after it was linked to a phenomenally large kill of bees and other pollinators.
All of these pesticides come with chilling ecological warnings. From the Tristar label, “Chemical Fate Information: Not readily biodegradable. From Marathon, “The use of this chemical in areas where the soil is permeable . . .may result in groundwater contamination.” From Marathon II, “This product is highly toxic to bees…” From Flagship, “This product is toxic to wildlife and is highly toxic to aquatic invertebrates. This product is highly toxic to bees…”
An informal browse of the garden supply department showed me that several of the pesticides available for home use are neonicotinoid-based. Imadacloprid was the most common that I saw, with dinotefuran a close second. Bayer products and Greenlight were the most likely to contain neonics. Most systemic pesticides are extremely water soluble so they will run into streams and stormwater channels readily.
Anyone concerned about the fate of our pollinators, those little critters indispensable to food production, should be aware of what is hiding in those garden center plants. Need vegetable plants for your garden? I also called Bonnie Plants and they assured me they never use neonicotinoids (or GMO seed). The supplier for many of the perennials at Lowe’s, Berry Family Nursery, declined to answer my questions about their pesticide use.
Want to do something? Ask Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, and Sam’s club to put the pressure on their growers to stop using these dangerous and harmful chemicals. Or, at the very least, to put labels on all the plants that have been treated with neonicotinoids. In the meantime, please think twice about what you buy.