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OCA's Save the Bees Campaign

New Tests Find Bee-Killing Pesticides in ‘Bee-Friendly’ Plants Sold in Portland, ME Garden Centers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 25, 2014    


Katherine Paul
Organic Consumers Association
207.653.3090, or

Charlotte Warren

Portland, Maine - Many €œbee-friendly€ home garden plants sold at Home Depot (NYSE: HD), Lowe€™s (NYSE: LOW) and Walmart (NYSE: WMT) stores in the Portland area have been pre-treated with pesticides shown to harm and kill bees, according to a study released today by Friends of the Earth (FOE) and allies, including the Organic Consumers Association (OCA).
The study, Gardeners Beware 2014, shows that 36 out of 71 (51 percent) of garden plant samples purchased at top garden retailers in 18 cities -- including Portland, Maine -- in the U.S. and Canada contain neonicotinoid (neonic) pesticides, a key contributor to recent bee declines.

Some of the flowers contained neonic levels high enough to kill bees outright assuming comparable concentrations are present in the flowers' pollen and nectar. Further, 40 percent of the positive samples contained two or more neonics.

€œMore than half a million Americans have signed petitions demanding that Lowe€™s and Home Depot stop selling neonics,€ said Charlotte Warren, communications and media consultant to the Organic Consumers Association. €œIn the face of mounting evidence and growing consumer demand, nearly a dozen nurseries, landscaping companies and retailers, including BJ's Wholesale Club with more than 200 locations in 15 states, announced today they will require vendors to remove neonics from plants by the end of 2014 and/or require warning labels for plants treated with neonics. We€™re asking Home Depot, Lowe€™s, and Walmart to do the same.€

The Gardeners Beware 2014 study is a larger follow up to a first-of-its-kind pilot study released by FOE last August. The new study expanded the number of samples and number of locations where plants were purchased, and also assessed the distribution of neonic pesticides between flowers and the rest of the plant.

€œThe high percentage of contaminated plants and their neonicotinoid concentrations indicate that many gardens with €œbee-friendly plants€ may actually be harming bees,€ said Katherine Paul, associate director of the Organic Consumers Association. €œWe are calling on retailers to get neonicotinoid pesticides out of their plants and off their shelves, by transitioning to suppliers who have committed to neonic-free plants.  Until then, gardeners should buy organic plants to ensure the safety of bees and the environment.€

€œOur data indicate that many plants sold in nurseries and garden stores across the U.S. and Canada are being pre-treated with systemic neonicotinoid insecticides, making them potentially toxic to pollinators,€ said Timothy Brown, Ph.D., co-author of the report from the Pesticide Research Institute. €œUnfortunately, these pesticides don€™t break down quickly so these flowers could be toxic to bees for years to come.€

Bees and other pollinators, essential for the two-thirds of the food crops humans eat every day, are in decline in countries around the world. The European Union enacted a two-year moratorium on the three most widely used neonicotinoids, based on strong science indicating that neonics can kill bees outright and make them more vulnerable to pests, pathogens and other stressors.

Master Beekeeper and Past President of the Maine Beekeepers Association, Erin MacGregor-Forbes, said "The Bee Informed partnership surveys show that Beekeepers have lost an average of 30 percent of their hives in the past eight years with some beekeepers losing all of their hives and many leaving the industry.  Recent losses are staggering and making it difficult for beekeepers to stay in business and for farmers to meet their pollination needs for important crops like almonds and berries.  In Maine we have only a few commercial beekeepers, but the hundreds of hobby beekeepers€™ colonies are just as important.  Stationary colonies in Maine pollinate our gardens and neighborhoods, providing food for us, and critical food for Wildlife."

Neonicotinoid insecticides have been responsible for several high-profile bee kills from high doses of the pesticides, but a strong and growing body of science shows that neonics contribute to impairment in reproduction, learning and memory, hive communications and immune response at doses far below those that cause bee kills. In this study, all of the nursery plant samples where neonics were detected have the potential to harm or even kill bees.

€œA growing number of responsible retailers have decided to be part of the solution to the bee crisis and are taking bee-harming pesticides off their shelves,€ said Lisa Archer, director of the Food & Technology program at Friends of the Earth-U.S. €œWe urge Home Depot, Lowe€™s and other major retailers to join these leaders in making our backyards and communities safe havens for bees.€

In Maine, the Highland Avenue Greenhouse & Farm Market has been growing all their vegetables, annuals and perennials pesticide-free for three years now. Chad Churchill, from the Highland Avenue Greenhouse said, €œWe work with Nature, not against it. Instead of chemicals, we use beneficial insects. Not all insects are harmful to your garden; in fact, many are beneficial and are an important part of the ecosystem. By avoiding the use of pesticides, especially neonics, we can do our part to protect bees and other pollinators that are essential for two-thirds of the food crops humans eat every day.€

In addition to pressuring retailers, U.S. groups are calling for the government to restrict neonics in the United States as they have in the EU. Despite more than a million public comments urging swift protections for bees, the EPA has delayed taking substantive action on neonicotinoids until registration review is complete.

In 2013, U.S Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced the €œSaving America€™s Pollinators Act€ which seeks to suspend the use of neonics on bee-attractive plants until EPA reviews all available data, including field studies. This bill has bi-partisan support and 68 cosponsors. Last week President Obama announced a federal strategy to protect pollinators and called on EPA to assess the effect of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on bees and other pollinators within 180 days.


The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) is an online and grassroots non-profit 501(c)3 public interest organization campaigning for health, justice, and sustainability. The Organic Consumers Fund is a 501(c)4 allied organization of the Organic Consumers Association, focused on grassroots lobbying and legislative action.

The Report Gardeners Beware 2014: Bee-Toxic Pesticides Found in €œBee-Friendly€ Plants Sold at Garden Centers in the U.S. and Canada, tips for consumers and a complete list of the co-releasing organizations and cities where plant samples were gathered can be found at

Friends of the Earth €“ U.S., founded by David Brower in 1969, is the U.S. voice of the world€™s largest federation of grassroots environmental groups, with a presence in 74 countries. Friends of the Earth works to defend the environment and champion a more healthy and just world.

Pesticide Research Institute is an environmental consulting firm providing research, analysis, technical services and expert consulting on the chemistry and toxicology of pesticides. is a global movement of consumers, investors, and workers all around the world, standing together to hold corporations accountable for their actions and forge a new, sustainable and just path for our global economy.    

Friends of the Earth U.S., the Pesticide Research Institute and SumOfUs, are releasing the report today with American Bird Conservancy, Atlanta Audubon Society, Bee Safe Neighborhoods, Beyond Pesticides, Beyond Toxics, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Ecology Center, Environment New York, Environment Texas, Environmental Youth Council, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth Canada, Georgia Organics, Green America, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Maryland Pesticide Network, Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, Organic Consumers Association, Pesticide Action Network North America, Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, Save our Environment, Toxics Action Center, Toxic Free North Carolina, Turner Environmental Law Clinic, and The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in the following cities: Ann Arbor, MI, Atlanta, GA, Austin, TX, Boulder, CO, Boston, MA, Baltimore area, MD, Eugene, OR, London, Ontario, Minneapolis, MN, Montreal, Quebec, New York, New York, Portland, ME, Raleigh, NC, Sacramento, CA, San Francisco, CA, St. Augustine, FL, Vancouver, British Columbia and Washington, DC.