Vendors stem sales of plants with toxins that hurt bees, study finds

Honeybee collecting pollen
Fewer garden plants sold by big retailers this year contain an insecticide harmful to bees.
Judy Griesedieck | For MPR News 2014

A new report says major retailers are selling fewer flowering plants treated with insecticides that can harm bees.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth and Pesticide Research Institute, sampled bee-friendly plants sold at major retailers in 14 cities across the country, including Minneapolis.

About one-fourth of the plants tested this year contained neonicotinoid insecticides at levels than can harm or kill bees according to Tiffany Finck-Haynes with Friends of the Earth.

"So this is a big improvement from our 2014 and 2013 studies, which found that more than half of the plants we tested contained neonicotinoid pesticide," Finck-Haynes said.

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Finck-Haynes believes major retailers and greenhouse companies that grow plants are responding to consumer concerns.

"Growers are finding ways to not only eliminate the use of neonicotinoid insecticides but do it in a way that is safe for bees, so they're using less toxic alternatives that are going to be good for bees and good for the environment," said Finck-Haynes. She added that a recent survey of greenhouse growers found three-quarters of companies that grow the plants said they would not use neonicotinoid insecticides in 2016.

Garden plants are often treated with a much higher level of neonicotinoid insecticide than is commonly used on agricultural crops.

At least two large retailers, Home Depot and Lowe's, have announced plans to phase out use of the insecticide in plants they sell.

Friends of the Earth is trying to convince other large retailers to make a similar pledge.