Following Friends of the Earth issuing its Gardeners Beware report that 51 percent of garden plants sampled at major garden retailers in 18 cities in the U.S. and Canada contain neonicotinoid insecticide, some garden retailers are moving to either require labeling that the plants have been treated with a neonic or requiring suppliers to not use neonic insecticides. The move is premature and an unwarranted action, according to manufacturers of the neonicotinoid insecticides.

Home Depot was called out by the Friends of the Earth as one of the garden plant retailers in its report, and the large home supply company did a quick knee-jerk reaction to require labeling and also wanting suppliers to look at providing plants not treated with neonicotinoids.

Friends of the Earth is blaming neonicotinoid use for the decline of honeybees, and companies like Home Depot are going along based on speculative unproven science. The report from Friends of the Earth didn’t clearly explain how having neonicotinoid pesticide residue in garden plants should be a concern about honey bees, especially since most of the garden plants supplied to garden centers would have been grown in greenhouse situations without honey bees being present. There definitely wasn’t any proof that plants taken home and planted would have neonicotinoid levels in flower pollen sufficient to be any concern to honey bee health.

Bayer CropScience, one manufacturer of neonicotinoid insecticides, but also a major researcher into the demise of honey bee populations, issued the following statement:  

Consumers have come to depend upon the benefits of neonicotinoids for beautiful plants found at retailers and healthy gardens around their home. Bayer CropScience is committed to the environmentally safe use of plant products and technologies that help sustain them.

Plant protection products, including neonicotinoids, are extensively reviewed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make sure they are safe for humans and the environment before they reach the market. Neonicotinoids have been shown to have minimal environmental impact while protecting plants from destructive pests. More than 100 studies have concluded that when used according to label instructions, neonicotinoids are not harmful to bee colonies.

“We believe that without the use of modern technologies, not only will our beautiful landscapes be threatened, but agriculture cannot achieve the level of food production necessary to feed the world in the years ahead,” said Jim Blome, president and CEO of Bayer CropScience in North America. “Coordinated attacks by activist groups are actually detracting from evidence-based science pointing to the true stressors to honey bee health.”

A report issued last year by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the EPA said honey bee health is being impacted by a wide range of factors including lack of forage, disease, and parasites. In fact, the USDA recently identified the Varroa mite as the most important factor related to honey bee colony decline. Australia uses neonicotinoids and has not experienced colony decline, possibly because honey bees there have not been threatened by invasion of the Varroa mite.