Buzz-Worthy: Is the End of Neonics Near?

Photo by <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/ryanwick/">Ryan Wick</a>/Flickr/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">Creative Commons</a>
Photo by Ryan Wick/Flickr/Creative Commons

See our California Matters with Mark Bittman segment on native pollinators here.

After mounting public pressure calling for a ban on neonicotinoids, a synthetic systemic pesticide that's been linked to rapidly vanishing bee colonies, it seems Home Depot is finally starting to listen.

The world's largest home improvement retailer is requiring its suppliers to start labeling any plants treated with neonicotinoids ("neonics") by the fourth quarter of this year. The company is also running tests in several states to determine whether it's feasible for its suppliers to eliminate the use of neonics entirely in plant production without compromising plant health.

In an email to Reuters, Ron Jarvis, vice president of merchandising/sustainability, said, "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."

Other U.S. retailers seem to be following suit. BJ's Wholesale Club, a warehouse retailer with more than 200 locations on the East Coast, announced that it will require its suppliers to provide neonic-free plants by the end of the year, or else label those treated with the pesticide to take "caution around pollinators."

According to this list from Friends of the Earth, nearly a dozen other home and garden retailers across the country — some with multiple locations — have pledged to discontinue in-house use of neonics, remove products containing neonics from their shelves, and/or buy from suppliers that do not treat their plants with neonics.

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In a June 20 Presidential Memorandum, the White House announced it was establishing the Pollinator Health Task Force to investigate the nation's honeybee decline. The initiative lays out a call to action for its member agencies (including the Army Corps of Engineers and the Departments of Agriculture, Transportation, Defense, and the Interior) to increase and improve pollinator habitats on federal lands.

Among the proposed efforts: use of pollinator-friendly plants in all landscaping projects for federal buildings, establishment of native seed mixes for use in post-fire rehabilitation and restoration projects, and installation of pollinator habitats along roadways and corridors. In addition, the Department of Transportation will make privately-owned and operated railways, pipelines, and transportation facilities aware of the need to increase pollinator habitat.

While this may seem like a good first step, Erich Pica is not impressed. The president of Friends of the Earth (and supporter of the Saving America's Pollinators Act, a 2013 bill currently stalled in Congress), said in a statement, "President Obama's announcement on protecting pollinators does not go far enough. The administration should prevent the release and use of these toxic pesticides until determined safe."

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