A Modest Proposal

by Barbara Walvoord

Hey, here’s an idea: instead of having to spray our bushes and flowers repeatedly with insecticides throughout the season, why don’t we grow plants that have insecticide already in their tissues, so the whole plant is automatically toxic to insects? Yeah, we could use neonicotinoids–a substance related to nicotine. When taken up by insects’ bodies, neonicotinoids interfere with the insects’ neural system. Great idea. And better yet, when the plant dies, it will return to the soil, and, because neonics last a long time, the soil will then pass on the neonics to new plants.

And hey, let’s put those neonics into our potting soil, and let’s sell landscaping and garden plants that already have neonics in them. Of course, we don’t have to tell consumers–they don’t care, anyway. They just want insect-free flowers and bushes.

Great idea, right? Wrong. Neonics may be present (but not labeled) in up to half of the flowers and bushes on sale this spring, but they are increasingly coming under attack because scientific data show their poisonous affect on our bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.


How to buy bedding plants with no neonicotinoids:

Plants are not required to be labeled as containing neonicotinoids.

  • Nasami Farm in Whately or or Project Native in Housatonic sell native plant s. No neonics.
  • Lowes has pledged to remove all neonics from its bedding and potted plants in the coming four years ( http://www.nbcnews.com/science/environment/lowes-announces-ban-bee-killing-pesticides-n338631)
  • Home Depot announced last summer that it would label all its plants that contain neonics, according to the same NBC report.
  • For any nursery, ask about neonicotinoids. They go by names such as imidacloprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, thiamethoxam, acetamiprid, and thiacloprid.


If you lived in Ontario or in any European Union country, you couldn’t buy any plants with neonics, because those nations have concluded there is too much harm to bees, butterflies, and otherpollinators. Our own EPA recently announced it would not issue any new permits to use neonics.

A Penn State University website, in collaboration with the Xerxes Society, presents a 2012 peer-reviewed paper by a group of scientists who, in an objective way, summarize the research literature just in regard to bees (http://ento.psu.edu/publications/are-neonicotinoids-killing-bees).

Here are some of what these scientists term “clearly documented facts:”

  1. Neonicotinoids can kill bees.
  2. Even if they don’t die, exposed bees can exhibit problems with flying and navigation, reduced taste sensitivity, slower learning of new tasks, greater time to maturity for the larvae, and greater susceptibility to pathogens that have been implicated in colony collapse disorder.
  3. Neonics persist in the soil for a long time and can be taken up by subsequent plants. Neonics break down into other substances, some of which are equally toxic.

The scientists recommend that warnings be placed on all bedding or potted plants that have neonics and that the U.S. government consider banning them altogether.



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