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.”

Bee on Flower

The pollen and nectar of neonicotinoid-treated plants are poisonous to bees.

Photo by Fotolia/nikkytok

Content Tools

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 .