When Bayer started marketing a neonicotinoid pesticide with "free seeds for bees", many bee-lovers thought it was a sick joke.
But the problem doesn't end with bad marketing ideas.
It turns out that many of us who have tried to help bees by planting pollinator gardens may be unwittingly spreading those very same pesticides, at least if we buy from mainstream hardware stores and garden centers. That's the conclusion of a new report from Friends of the Earth which found traces of neonicotinoids in 51% of bee-friendly plants purchased at garden centers, including Lowes, Walmart and Home Depot, across the US and Canada:
In approximately half of samples with detections, the neonicotinoid residues were distributed evenly between flowers and stems/leaves or were localized primarily in the flowers. This result suggests that bees are being exposed to neonicotinoids through contact with contaminated flowers and ingestion of pollen and nectar within the flower.
The report recommends that gardeners continue to support bees by avoiding off-the-shelf neonicotinoid sprays and by planting pollinator gardens, but we should exercise caution about where we get our plants and seeds. Certified organic plants and seeds can be a great option if available, and many farmers' markets include plant sellers who do not use unnecessary sprays or chemicals.
Of course we can also apply pressure on retailers to supply neonicotinoid-free plants (these stores have already made commitments), and on law makers to follow Europe's lead in applying a precautionary ban until neonicotinoids can be proved safe.
Update: Grist reports that Home Depot is now asking suppliers to start labeling plants treated with neonicotinoids by the end of the year and is running tests to see if they can eliminate the chemicals without hurting plant health.