Neonicotinoid Insecticides: Are Your Nursery Plants Being Treated With Bee-Killing Chemicals?

Several popular home stores are selling nursery plants treated with bee-killing chemicals, including potent neonicotinoid insecticides, also called “neonics.”
By Cheryl Long, Editor-in-Chief
February/March 2014
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The pollen and nectar of neonicotinoid-treated plants are poisonous to bees.
Photo by Fotolia/nikkytok

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Unless you’re buying certified organic transplants this spring, you may be introducing persistent neonicotinoid insecticides into your garden — and thus into your food. As MOTHER EARTH NEWS has reported, neonics are potent systemic pesticides that spread through plants and contaminate pollen and nectar. The lingering poisons persist in soil, and they can be absorbed by subsequent crops. Neonics are one of the factors known to be contributing to colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon linked to the deaths of a vast number of honeybees over the past several years. These pesticides are also suspected of reducing many bird populations, as widespread use of neonics means fewer insects, which means less food for birds.

Neonics are widely used by farmers, and many garden centers and nurseries sell plants treated with them, too. This means you may be feeding neonics to your family, and bees could be poisoned by nursery plants you bring home. A 2013 study by the environmental group Friends of the Earth found neonics in plants from Lowe’s and Home Depot stores in Minneapolis, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. In Europe, the Pesticide Action Network tested more than 100 plant samples of crops such as strawberries, tomatoes and zucchini, and found neonic residues in several samples of each crop.

The neonic-producing chemical companies (Bayer and Syngenta) have convinced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that these insecticides do not pose a danger to humans. We, however, aren’t so sure. The chemicals’ effect on brain cells is similar to that of nicotine, and nicotine exposure is a known cause of adverse effects in children. A 2012 Japanese study concluded that neonics may pose potent risks to human health (visit the Public Library of Science to read the study).

We believe these insecticides should be banned, period. Europe has already done so temporarily for some neonics. Hats off to U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and John Conyers Jr. of Michigan for introducing the Saving America’s Pollinators Act, which seeks to suspend the use of neonics on bee-attracting plants. For more information on these chemicals, read The Dangers of Neonicotinoid Pesticides.

Cheryl Long is the editor in chief of MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, and a leading advocate for more sustainable lifestyles. She leads a team of editors which produces high quality content that has resulted in MOTHER EARTH NEWS being rated as one North America’s favorite magazines. Long lives on an 8-acre homestead near Topeka, Kan., powered in part by solar panels, where she manages a large organic garden and a small flock of heritage chickens. Prior to taking the helm at MOTHER EARTH NEWS, she was an editor at Organic Gardening magazine for 10 years. Connect with her on .

Post a comment below.


3/26/2014 5:28:02 PM
Hello. Just a question. If I bought some Fall plants last year at one of those big box stores and they contain that neonicotinoid poison (I’m hoping not, but lets say they do). How long will that last on my soil? I’m trying to go as organic as possible, meaning our lawn this year will go with no fertilizers, no weed killers, etc. I’ll embrace our so called weeds, besides, my daughter loves dandelions anyway. I’m planning on planting more natives in our yard and get rid of a big portion of our lawn little by little. It will take time but I’m hoping for the best. But yes, I’m wondering how long that horrible stuff lasts in the soil, if anybody knows, please let me know.

2/13/2014 9:49:28 AM
Thank you for this article. Is there anyway for us to tell if the plants we buy have neonics on them? I don't have much luck growing from seeds all the time.

2/12/2014 9:22:41 AM
Easy to buy plants that have been treated with neonicotinoid poison, or genetically modified. There are no markings or labels about this, as if the producers are ashamed; as they well should be! W-mart, H depot, Low's, even supermarkets sell starts relatively cheap, but where do they get them? Buy local at a greenhouse, landscaping business, or farmer's market, and look for organic.

1/23/2014 1:07:54 PM
I've always preferred purchasing starts at the farmers market simply to support local, small-scale sellers. Avoiding these chemicals seems an even more important reason. No more starts from "mainstream" garden centers for me! I hope people pass this article along to their gardening friends. I think most people are in the dark about such troubling problems.

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