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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Neonics reprised

Beekeepers are spreading the word: neonicotinoid pesticides are bad news for honeybees. A Boston Globe story last week about bee-friendly yards spotlighted the problem. While choosing native plants is a help, beekeepers interviewed emphasized that you undo your good work if you apply toxic pesticides on your property—or if someone nearby sprays these chemicals.

Black-eyed Susans help pollinators--but not if they're treated with toxic neonics

    Friends of Earth and its supporters are asking EPA administrator Scott Pruitt to ban one of the neonics, imidacloprid. The National Pesticide Information Center at Oregon State University reports there are 400 products sold in the US containing this pesticide in various forms: liquids, granules, dusts, and water-soluble powders. A quick search turned up brand names such as Temprid, Maxforce, and Bayer Insect Control. 

    So far the EPA has declined to ban agricultural use of imidacloprid. Plants sold in garden centers may be even more of a problem. 

Tempting, but garden center plants could be toxic for pollinators

They can be treated with the pesticide at 120 times the concentration used on farms. Because the neonics dissolve in water, they migrate into all plant tissues and can contaminate surrounding soil. They’re slow to degrade and can affect your garden for years to come.

    As garden center customers, we have reason to feel betrayed. We’re encouraged—urged—to buy pollinator-friendly plants. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect that those plants won’t kill pollinators?

    Beekeepers are of course most concerned about honeybee die-off. In late June, a beekeeper in Rehoboth, Massachusetts lost more than 60,000 bees. Knowledgeable observers say this loss has the hallmarks of pesticide poisoning. Bee scouts go out each morning to find sources of pollen and nectar. They return to the hive to share their information. The Rehoboth bees seem to have followed their scouts to a nearby food source contaminated with pesticide.

A contaminated food source can kill a whole hive--photo by Shawn Caza

     This is the kind of effect neonicotinoid spraying can have. A homeowner could have used a pesticide product according to label instructions, or worse, could have applied more than instructed or sprayed at a windy time when the spray would be carried to surrounding areas. The result: bee genocide.

    We hear most about honeybees, but there are 400 native bee species on the job too pollinating our food crops as well as other plants. 

Bumblebees are important pollinators too

Moths and butterflies also do this work. Neonics threaten all these insect pollinators. 

    Since becoming aware of the neonic problem this year, I’ve been working hard to avoid bringing home any neonic-treated plants. Plant purchases from previous years may already be spreading toxicity on my land. I searched for untreated seeds, or at least seeds sourced from European countries that don’t allow neonic treatment. I found places to shop where sellers guarantee their seedlings are pesticide-free, if not fully organic. But I had to avoid my favorite garden center, because they’re still buying neonic-treated plants.

Stokesia from a pesticide-free garden center

    Big retailers such as BJ’s Wholesale Club and Home Depot have already pledged not to sell neonic-treated plants. It’s high time that local garden centers did the same.

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