Garden centres sell plants with bee-killing pesticides

Tests from 18 North American cities, including Vancouver, found garden plants treated with neonicotinoids, which were banned in Europe last year

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      The Canadian branch of an international grassroots environmental group has warned bee-loving gardeners that top garden centres and nurseries—including some in Vancouver—are selling bee-friendly home-garden plants that have been treated with neonicotinoid pesticides that kill or harm bees.

      Friends of the Earth Canada released details of a new North American study on June 25 that tested plants purchased at retail garden outlets in 18 cities in the U.S. and Canada (the Canadian samples were collected in Montreal, Vancouver, and London, Ontario).

      The survey, conducted with Friends of the Earth U.S. and the California-based Pesticide Research Institute, found that 51 percent of the plant samples contained neonicotinoids in varying amounts, in some cases at levels in flowers high enough to kill bees outright.

      Gardeners urged to sign petition

      “The high percentage of contaminated plants and their neonicotinoid concentrations suggest that this is a widespread problem,” Beatrice Olivastri, CEO of Friends of the Earth Canada, said in a June 25 release. “Most gardeners have no idea their gardens may be harmful to bees. We’re circulating a petition calling on retailers to get neonicotinoids out of their plants and supply chain as soon as possible. Until then, gardeners should buy organic plants to ensure the safety of bees.”

      The release noted that three of the U.K.’s top garden retailers have voluntarily stopped selling such products. Friends of the Earth Canada’s retailer petition is directed at Home Depot, Sears Canada, Canadian Tire, and Rona.

      Contacted by phone in Ottawa on June 26, Olivastri told the Georgia Straight that only one of the four retail outlets targeted by the petition, Home Depot, actually supplied the plants tested in the Canadian part of the study because of a national shortage of flowering plants due to “a late spring”. She said consumers should pressure all outlets to ensure that they sell plants not treated with neonicotinoids.

      Different pesticides found

      The “neonic” systemic pesticides (two or more types of which were discovered in 40 percent of the sample plants that tested positive) were about evenly split between the flowers and the stems/leaves, according to the peer-reviewd study.

      In Vancouver, salvia and lavender tested positive, while scabiosa and Shasta daisies showed no neonic application.

      In recent years, bee populations worldwide have experienced sometimes catastrophic drops. Devastating hive die-offs, sometimes referred to as “colony collapse disorder”, where entire worker-bee populations disappear, have puzzled scientists

      No commercial restrictions in Canada

      In Canada, commercial operators face no restriction in the use of neonicotinoids, which have become enormously popular worldwide in the past two decades. The European Union has banned three popular neonics for two years while their impact is studied.

      Neonics are widely used in North America and Europe on corn, soy, and other vegetable crops as well as on fruits and nuts. About one-third of the Canadian food supply depends on pollinated crops.

      New international study confirms neonic harm

      The Friends of the Earth report came out the same day as a coalition of Canadian environmental groups—including the David Suzuki Foundation, the Sierra Club Canada Foundation, and the Wilderness Committee—called for the federal government to end the use of neonics in the wake of an announcement by an international task force of independent scientists that there is “clear evidence of harm sufficient to trigger regulatory action” on neonics.

      Fifty scientists with the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides assessed 800 peer-reviewed studies to come to the conclusion that neonics harmed bees and other pollinators and also represented serious risks to birds, butterflies, and earthworms.

      The task-force report is sceduled to be published this summer in the academic journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research.

      Canada renewed registration for controversial pesticide

      Health Canada last year renewed, under the Pest Control Products Act, the conditional registration of the neonic insecticide clothianidin, acknowledged by Health Canada as highly toxic to bees and mammals. The pesticide, which accumulates in pollen and nectar, is to be used on potatoes, grapes, and stone fruits, among other crops.

      Friends of the Earth Canada wants Health Canada and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency to suspend the use of neonics in Canada until further study.




      Jun 27, 2014 at 9:53am

      It would be helpful to have a list of the nurseries/ shops that guarantee their plants do not contain neonicotinoids. I've been looking for such a list for over a year. By the way, If you ask the garden staff at Home Depot if their plants contain neonicotinoids they say no. I asked last week at the Terminal Ave. Home Depot. Actually the answer was "our suppliers say they don't use neonicotinoids" which wasn't reassuring.

      Martin Dunphy

      Jun 27, 2014 at 11:55am


      I was unable to find such a list (although this link [ ] will show you a list of U.S. retailers that have committed to avoid neonicotinoids).
      Part of the problem with asking employees at a retail giant that does not have its own nurseries would be the fact that they have to deal with so many different suppliers of bedding plants, etcetera.

      A. MacInnis

      Jun 27, 2014 at 1:09pm

      Thanks for sharing this Martin - my second petition signed today (usually never bother with'em).

      Ian Hanington

      Jun 27, 2014 at 1:11pm

      Tell federal and provincial governments it's time to ban these bee-killing pesticides:

      Ian Hanington
      David Suzuki Foundation