The bee population situation has gotten so dire that the White House has created a bee task force. As the bee population dwindles, scientists and researchers look for an explanation and a solution. Thus far, scientists have determined that neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides, is a serious culprit in the bee problem. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has found "conclusive" evidence that these neonicotinoids are "a key factor in the decline of bees." These pesticides are extremely toxic — five-to-ten thousand times more toxic than DDT.
In order to help rebuild the populations, researchers have recommended planting bee-friendly gardens. These gardens have specific plants that create an environment in which bees can thrive, and over time, can help rebuild the bee population. These plants are sold at the usual big box garden centers, like Home Depot, Walmart, and Lowe's.
While it seems like a great plan, the Pesticide Research Institute has determined the bee friendly plants sold at these stores actually contain neonicotinoids. So the bee friendly gardens are inadvertently contributing in a major way to the death of even more bees.
Researchers at the Pesticide Research Institute purchased 71 bee friendly plants, such as daisies, lavender, marigolds, primrose, and asters. They were purchased throughout 18 different Lowe's, Walmart, and Home Depot locations around the U.S., to be sure this was not a store specific issue. Over 35 of the 71 plants had neonicotinoid residues. Depending on the plant, the residue levels were between 2 and 748 parts per billion. Vera Krischik, an ecotoxicologist at the University of Minnesota, told Wired that honeybees can die when exposed to levels of 192 parts per billion. Their navigation ability, memory, and foraging ability is affected when exposed to levels between 4 and 30 parts per billion.
Technically, the plants being sold are completely legal (just not ethically responsible.) While neonicotinoids are illegal in Europe, they are completely legal in the United States. If you are trying to plant a garden that is actually bee friendly, you can purchase organic plants.
Home Depot spokesperson Catherine H. Woodling told The Wire via an email statement that:
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 honey-bee population. We’ve been in communication with the EPA, insecticide industry and our suppliers for many months to understand the science and monitor the research. We are encouraged and support the White House’s Pollinator Health Task Force.
We’re glad to provide customers with alternative products for their insecticide needs and are actively working with our live goods suppliers to find alternative insecticides for protecting live goods and bees. We will also require all of our live goods suppliers to label plants that they have treated with Neonicitinoids by fourth quarter 2014.
Lowe's had similar things to say in an email statement to The Wire:
Lowe’s is concerned about bee health and for many months we have been closely monitoring the latest science from organizations including the U.S. EPA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, environmental groups and respected universities. All studies agree that the influences impacting the health of bees and other pollinators are very complex.
Lowe’s supports ongoing efforts by the EPA and USDA to promote pollinator health, including the recently established Pollinator Health Task Force, as you have noted. That team will work to foster a better understanding of pollinator losses, develop an education plan and seek ways to increase and improve pollinator habitats.
We expect all of our vendors to abide by EPA guidelines regarding application and labeling of all pesticides. Additionally, to provide our customers a range of product choices to maintain their lawns and gardens, we offer a selection of organic pest control products for customers who wish to control pests naturally.
Update, 7:00 p.m.: Walmart spokesperson Susan Saronitman offered this statement to The Wire via email:
Walmart shares the concerns of others regarding pollinator health, including the health of bees. Like many other environmental and social issues in agriculture, the neonicotinoid issue is very complex. We are monitoring the science on this closely, and we look forward to the findings from the White House’s National Pollinator Health Task Force, announced in the last week. We are actively engaging with many stakeholders, including scientists, suppliers, farmers and customers, to explore additional steps we can take to enhance the health of bees and other pollinators in the food and garden supply chains.