A dozen US home and garden retailers, including Home Depot and BJ's Wholesale Club, are working to ban or limit use of neonicotinoid, or neonic, pesticides, suspected of contributing to dramatic declines in honeybee populations, according to Reuters.
The retailers are now requiring suppliers to label any plants treated with the pesticides before they can be sold in their stores. Home Depot, the world's largest home-improvement retailer, is requiring its suppliers to start such labeling by the fourth quarter of this year, and is running tests in several states to see if the pesticides can be eliminated in plant production without adversely affecting plant health, according to Ron Jarvis, the company's VP of merchandising/sustainability.
"The Home Depot is deeply engaged in understanding the relationship of the use of certain insecticides on our live goods and the decline in the honeybee population," Jarvis told Reuters.
BJ's Wholesale Club, a warehouse retailer with more than 200 locations along the East Coast, said it was asking all of its vendors to provide plants free of neonics by the end of 2014 or to label such products as requiring "caution around pollinators" such as bees.
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Reuters says at least 10 other smaller retailers in Minnesota, Colorado, Maryland and California, have announced plans to limit or eliminate neonics from their plant products.
Neonicotinoid pesticides were developed by agrichemical companies to boost yields of staple crops such as corn, but they are also used widely on annual and perennial plants found in lawns and gardens. The EU has already banned the pesticides and some of the UK’s largest home-improvement retailers, including Homebase, B&Q and Wickes, have committed to no longer sell products containing them.
A study released last month by Friends of the Earth (FoE) found that roughly 51 percent of garden plants purchased at garden retailers in 18 cities across North America contained neonic pesticides. FoE previously worked with groups such as Beyond Pesticides to pressure companies including Home Depot and Lowe’s to stop selling plants treated with neonics.
“We’re pleased these retailers are working to be part of the solution to the bee crisis. Bees are crucial for our food system, and we must do everything in our power to protect them,” said Lisa Archer, director of the FoE’s Food & Technology program. “We will work with Home Depot and other retailers to get neonicotinoid pesticides out of their plants and off their shelves as soon as possible.”
Scientists, consumer groups, beekeepers and NGOs have long linked bee declines to neonic pesticides. Monsanto, Bayer and other agrichemical companies say a mix of factors such as mites are killing the bees, but The Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the Impact of Systemic Pesticides on Biodiversity and Ecosystems (WIA), an analysis of 800 peer-reviewed studies released late last month by the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, found that neonics were a key factor in bee declines. In fact, the assessment linked the pesticides to the potential decline of entire ecosystems: According to the report, “Neonics impact all species that chew a plant, sip its sap, drink its nectar, eat its pollen or fruit and these impacts cascade through an ecosystem, weakening its stability.” This combined with neonics’ tendency to run off into soil and aquatic habitats means they are pervasive “at levels that are known to cause lethal and sub-lethal effects on a wide range of terrestrial, aquatic and soil-beneficial microorganisms, invertebrates and vertebrates.”
The USDA Department of Agriculture estimates total losses of managed honeybee colonies at 23 percent over the winter of 2013-14, the latest in a series of annual declines.
The plight of the bees must be addressed because they pollinate plants that produce roughly 25 percent of our food. In addition to the home and garden retailers’ efforts, a number of brands including Whole Foods, Burt’s Bees, Cascadian Farm and Häagen Dazs are working to raise awareness of the issue and funding for solutions. And last month during National Pollinator Week, the White House announced a plan to fund new honeybee habitats and to form a task force to study solutions. And Monsanto says it is also doing its part: Last fall, the agrichemical giant joined a multi-stakeholder coalition of agriculture commodity groups, industry groups, government agencies and environmental NGOs, aimed at improving health in honey bee populations.