Home Depot and BJ's Wholesale Club take steps to limit or eliminate bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides in their nursery plants

Bees and gardeners win! Public pressure successfully pushed Home Depot to start requiring labelling of its nursery plants that are treated with bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides. This means that we can read the label, and avoid buying these plants. That will save bees and other pollinators from carrying the pesticide-laced pollen and nectar back to the hive and contaminating the food for the whole hive, including the Queen and baby bees.

Home Depot wasn’t the first. East Coast-based BJ’s Wholesale Club also went to its supply chain, asking its vendors to provide neonic-free plants by the end of 2014 or label them with “caution to pollinator” tags. Other small retailers have also kicked off plants to limit or eliminate the bee-killing pesticides from its nursery plants.

Labelling works! The stigma associated with the label, the cost of producing the new label, and the impact on consumers of avoiding buying plants with the new label all add up to pushing growers away from using neonicotinoid pesticides. In the trade press, industry reported that, “…growers must either accept the potential consumer stigma associated with neonicotinoids, or make the necessary changes and hope their alternative methods work as well.”

Lowes and Wal-Mart are lagging, so keep up the pressure on them! Friends of the Earth US is leading this effort, in partnership with environmental groups across the country.

Pollinators including bees contribute over $24 billion in pollination of our crops, wildflowers, forests, and gardens – including one-third of our food.  The number of managed U.S. honey bee colonies dropped from 6 million colonies in 1947, to 4 million in 1970, 3 million in 1990, and just 2.5 million today. There are likely multiple factors contributing to bee deaths. However, over the last several years there has been an accumulation of data that points to the role that pesticides play in the decline – specifically a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, or neonics, which are systemic – meaning they poison the whole treated plant including the nectar and pollen that bees eat – and they are persistent, lasting months or even years in the plant, soil, and waterways. Traditional best management practices for bee protection, such as not spraying during the day or on bloom, doesn’t work for neonics. 

Neonics are not just bad for bees, but also pose a risk of harm to aquatic invertebrates and emerging evidence suggests that they may also pose a risk to people. This international scientific consensus about the ecological harm posed by neonicotinoid pesticides provided the evidence that NRDC relied upon when we filed a legal petition with EPA to expedite the review of the neonicotinoid pesticides, and cancel harmful uses in the meantime. NRDC submitted signatures from almost 275,000 of our members supporting our petition.

About the Authors

Jennifer Sass

Senior Scientist, Health program

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