What You Can Do About Bee-Killing Neonicotinoids

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

You've probably seen the petitions make their rounds on Facebook and other social media. Nearly every site from SumOfUs to MoveOn has urged fellow bee lovers, gardeners, farmers, and eco-minded supporters to demand the ban of neonicotinoids (or "neonics"), a systemic synthetic pesticide that's been linked in several studies to the recent mass die-off of bees.

Manufactured by Bayer CropScience and Syngenta, neonics are routinely used on plants at the nursery as well as at the growers' warehouse. The pesticide is a neurotoxin, absorbed by the plant's vascular system and expressed in the pollen and nectar. Bees that visit contaminated plants aren't instantly killed, which has made it difficult to pinpoint the cause of their severe decline. Instead, their nervous systems are slowly attacked, inhibiting their ability to forage for nectar, learn and remember where flowers are located, and find their way back to their hives, consequences that when multiplied across all bees, lead to colony collapse disorder.

Adding insult to injury, it's been found that many "bee friendly" plants (and even pollen-containing vegetable starts, such as tomatoes) at Home Depot, Lowe's, and Orchard Supply Hardware locations across the country tested positive for neonics.

The petitions that have been going around for the last year typically target the boxes, pressuring Home Depot and its competitor, Lowe's, to stop carrying neonicotinoid-treated plants. While a change by these two massive retailers would have serious impact on growing industry practices, we shouldn't hold our breath.

Change happens more quickly on the local level — which is why you can make a difference in your community and support an independent garden center at the same time.

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Demand that your local independent garden center (IGC) stop carrying neonics
There are countless other nurseries besides the ones at the major chains. Ask the owner or manager if they sell neonicotinoid-containing pesticides or plants treated with neonicotinoids. If they do, point them to the numerous articles available online linking neonics to bee decline, and demand that they cease buying those plants from their wholesale growers. If enough IGCs pledge to stop buying from their regional growers, the change could happen right at the root of the problem — at the very warehouses where the plants are raised.

Rally your Representative to support the Saving America's Pollinators Act
Last year, Representatives John Conyers (D-MI) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced H.R. 2692, otherwise known as the Saving America's Pollinators Act. The legislation calls for the suspension of neonics until a full review of scientific evidence and a field study demonstrates no harmful impacts to pollinators. (This follows the two-year suspension of neonics in the European Union that took effect on December 1, 2013.) The legislation has stalled on Capitol Hill; while it hasn't been killed off, it also hasn't advanced any further than the House. Join the Facebook page for updates and tell your local Representative to support this important bill!

Start pollinator-friendly plants from seed
Instead of buying flowers, herbs, and vegetable starts from a nursery, look into the California seed companies that offer thousands of varieties of beautiful plants for your garden. Many of them are sourced from sustainable small farmers or certified organic, so you'll rest assured knowing your efforts in saving the bees won't inadvertently harm them in the process.

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