Three of four Michigan garden plant samples in national study contained bee-toxic insecticides (neonics)

National results show overall significant decrease in bee-killing pesticides in “bee-friendly” plants since 2014

Detroit/ Ann Arbor: A report released today showed a significant decrease in the number of bee-friendly” home garden plants sold at major retailers that have been pre-treated with pesticides shown to harm and kill bees. The study of 60 plants purchased at Home Depot (NYSE: HD), Lowe’s (NYSE: LOW), Ace Hardware, True Value and Walmart (NYSE: WMT) was conducted by Friends of the Earth, Pesticide Research Institute and allies, including Michigan’s Ecology Center.

Four plants were purchased in Michigan: two from Home Depot in Detroit and two from True Value in Ann Arbor. The Michigan plants from True Value both tested positive for bee-toxic neonicotinoid insecticides (neonics); whereas one out of two plants from the local Home Depot did. Seventy-five percent of the plants purchased in Michigan tested positive for neonics, as compared to 23% nationally.

The report, Gardeners Beware 2016, is a follow-up to testing conducted in 2013 and 2014 that demonstrated the presence of neonics in more than half of bee-attractive flowers tested. Since then larger retailers Home Depot and Lowe's have both made commitments to phase out the use of these pesticides.  The 2016 analysis finding 23 percent of flowers and trees tested contain neonics indicates these two companies are making significant progress toward that goal. These retailer commitments are having a ripple effect in production methods by suppliers and have resulted in reduced use of neonicotinoids in common garden plants overall. 

Ace Hardware, True Value and Walmart have not yet made similar commitments to eliminate neonics in their stores.

“The market is shifting away from selling bee-killing pesticides, and retailers including Ace Hardware and True Value are lagging behind their competitors,” said Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “We are calling on all retailers to do their part to save bees and adopt formal policies to eliminate neonicotinoid pesticides.”

A YouGov Poll commissioned by Friends of the Earth and Sum of Us conducted in 2016 and released today found that 67% of Americans feel more positively about Home Depot and 66% feel more positively about Lowe’s because of their formal commitments to eliminate neonics.  Following this survey, half of respondents said they are more likely to shop at Home Depot (50%) and Lowe’s (51%) because of the store’s commitment. Further, more than a third (39%) said they’d feel more negatively about a retailer that had not formally committed to eliminating systemic neonicotinoid insecticides.

The five retailers featured in Gardener’s Beware 2016 also continue to sell dozens of products for home use that contain neonics.

“Gardeners want to provide flowers and habitat to support bee populations,” said Melissa Cooper Sargent of the Ecology Center. “Yet, store shelves contain bee-killing pesticides and bedding plants and trees tainted with bee-killing pesticides. “Many gardeners don’t realize products designed to fight grubs or kill aphids can also poison bees and other pollinators. We applaud the progress that has been made in the past two years and encourage all retailers to get neonicotinoid pesticides out of their plants completely and to remove products containing neonics off their shelves as quickly as possible.”

More than 100 businesses, cities, universities, states and countries around the world have restricted use of these insecticides. Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 State Of The Industry Survey found 74 percent of growers who supply mass merchants and home improvement chains said they will not use neonicotinoid insecticides in 2016.

“Our data indicates that compared to two years ago, fewer nurseries and garden stores are selling plants pre-treated with systemic neonicotinoid insecticides,” said Susan Kegley, Ph.D., author of the report from the Pesticide Research Institute. “Yet it’s still not possible for a gardener to be sure that the plants they select at the store will be safe for bees and other pollinators. Retailers should work with their suppliers to speed up their phase out of bee-harming pesticides.”

Flowering trees are frequently used in landscaping city streets and business campuses, providing nectar for bees, seeds for birds and shade for humans. Unfortunately, the results of the new report show that systemic neonicotinoids are commonly used in tree production, and could be a major source of exposure for urban pollinators. 

Bees and other pollinators, essential for every one in three bites of food we eat, are in great peril. The United Nations estimates, 40 percent of invertebrate pollinator species including bees and butterflies, are on the brink of extinction. Research indicates that bee-toxic neonicotinoid insecticides are one of the primary causes of the decline. Neonicotinoid insecticides have been responsible for several high profile bee kills from high doses of the pesticides, and a strong and growing body of science shows that neonics contribute to impaired 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.

Read the report.


The Report Gardeners Beware 2016: Bee-Toxic Pesticides Found in “Bee-Friendly” Plants Sold at Garden Centers in the U.S., survey results, tips for consumers and a complete list of the co-releasing organizations and cities where plant samples were gathered can be found at the FoE website.

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.

Pesticide Research Institute is an environmental consulting firm providing research, analysis, technical services and expert consulting on the chemistry and toxicology of pesticides.

Friends of the Earth U.S., and the Pesticide Research Institute, are releasing Gardeners Beware 2016 today with Beyond Toxics, Central Maryland Beekeepers Association, Ecology Center, Environment Texas, Georgia Organics, Maryland Pesticide Network, Natural Resources Defense Council, Organic Consumers Association, Pesticide Action Network North America, Toxics Action Center, Toxic Free North Carolina, Turner Environmental Law Clinic in the following cities: Ann Arbor, MI, Atlanta, GA, Austin, TX, Boston, MA, Burlington, VT, Baltimore area, MD, Detroit, MI, Eugene, OR, Minneapolis, MN, Portland, ME, Raleigh, NC, Sacramento, CA, San Francisco, CA and Washington, DC.

Friends of the Earth U.S., and SumOfUs are releasing YouGov Survey results today. Results can be found here.  All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1,119 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 28th - 29th April 2016.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18+).

Published on August 15, 2016