Some big retailers are joining the fight against Colony Collapse Disorder, which in recent years has devastated bee populations around the U.S.
The Home Depot (HD) plans later this year to require suppliers to label plants treated with so-called neonic pesticides, which are suspected to be behind the sharp declines in honey bee populations, the company told CBS MoneyWatch. It's also working with suppliers to find alternative insecticides. BJ's Wholesale Club and some smaller retailers are also working on similar plans, Reuters reports.
The plan comes after Friends of the Earth, an environmental group, released a study that found half of all commercial nursery plants contained residues of the pesticide. Ironically, many of those are sold as "bee-friendly" plants, which the report said may lead to gardeners to "unwittingly" poison the very creatures they are trying to protect.
"The Home Depot is deeply engaged in understanding the relationship of the use of certain insecticides on our live goods and the decline in the honey-bee population," Home Depot said in a statement. "We've been in communication with the EPA, insecticide industry and our suppliers for many months to understand the science and monitor the research."
Honey bee colonies have shrunk by half, declining to 2.5 million today from 5 million in the 1940s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture notes. If losses continue at its recent steep rates, "It could threaten the economic viability of the bee pollination industry," the agency notes.
The decline of honey bees also could have widespread economic impact, given that farmers rely on the insects to pollinate crops with an annual value of $125 billion.
Neonic pesticides are particular harmful since plants that are treated with them "continue exuding these pesticides in pollen and nectar for months to years after initial treatment," the Friends of the Earth report noted. Plants bought at nurseries that tested positive for the pesticides included lavender, phlox, African marigolds, English and gerbera daisies, and salvia, which are all popular flowers in American gardens.
The group is recommending that consumers, retailers, suppliers and regulators take steps to restrict usage of the pesticides. For consumers, one step to take is to keep an eye out for labels that specify whether a plant or product includes the pesticide.
Still, not all are in support of eliminating the pesticides. Bayer, a manufacturer of the products, says that it's too early to conclude that the pesticides are at fault, and that other issues, such as mites, may be to blame.