Last week Reuters reported that home improvement chain Lowe’s Cos Inc will stop selling a type of pesticide suspected of causing a decline in honeybee populations needed to pollinate key American crops, following a few U.S. retailers who have taken similar steps last year.
The class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, or neonics, are sold by agrichemical companies to boost yields of staple crops but are also used widely on annual and perennial plants used in lawns and gardens. Scientists, consumer groups, beekeepers and others say bee deaths are linked to the neonic pesticides. The bee die-off is worrisome for agriculture because honeybees pollinate plants that produce about a fourth of the food consumed by Americans.
Lowe’s said it will phase out neonics in shelf products and plants by the spring of 2019, as suitable alternatives become available.
Today NPR reported on its website: Scientists have shown that a range of factors – from climate change to viruses to loss of habitat – are contributing to the global decline in bee health. And two new studies published in the journal Nature add to the evidence that overuse of neonicotinoid pesticides may also be contributing to the decline of bees.
Neonics – as they’re known for short – have become among the most widely used insecticides in the world. The pesticide is coated onto the seeds that farmers plant to grow their crops. These pre-treated seeds are used extensively in corn, soy and canola crops. In fact, it’s estimated that treated seeds are used in more than 95 percent of the U.S. corn crop.
Part of the appeal for farmers is that neonics are simple to use. Farmers plant the seeds in the spring. “The neonicotinoid [which is water soluble] is then absorbed as the plant grows … and protects the tissues,” explains scientist Nigel Raine , who authored a News & Views piece that accompanies the new Nature studies.
This is effective at protecting farmers’ crops from pests. But it may be risky for the bees, because “you get [neonicotinoid] residues in the nectar and pollen, even when the plant is flowering months later, potentially,” Raine says.