Big-Box Retailer Phases Out Bee-Killing Pesticides

Lowe’s announces it will stop selling plants treated with neonics over the next four years.

(Photo: John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Apr 11, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

As a smug Californian who already has a normal lemon tree, I’m in the market for a Meyer lemon too. The sweeter, thin-skinned citrus is widely available on the West Coast, but as Mark Bittman will tell you, there’s nothing more annoying than reading a recipe that says you can only make it with Meyers—because it effectively precludes anyone not living in some sun-dappled California bungalow from cooking it.

So when I was at Home Depot recently and saw a nice-looking dwarf Meyer in the garden department, I checked the tag to see how much it cost. The price escapes me now, but the label also told me the Meyer had been treated with neonicotinoids. The systemic class of pesticide is taken up by all parts of the plants, including the flowers, making the nectar and pollen potentially deadly to bees and other insects.

In response to consumer complaints, Home Depot, the leading home improvement chain in the country, announced that it would start labeling products like the Meyer lemon last year. Now, Lowe’s, the number two retail chain in the industry, announced that it will go a step further. In its annual corporate responsibility report, released Thursday, the North Carolina–based chain said it would phase out products containing neonics over the next four years.

Lowe’s said in a statement that it will “include greater organic and non-neonic product selections, work with growers to eliminate the use of neonic pesticides on bee-attractive plants it sells and educate customers and employees through in-store and online resources.”

Many believe the pesticides are to blame for colony collapse disorder, the mysterious disappearance of entire hives of bees that began in 2006; the European Commission restricted the use of the a number of neonics in 2013. Other studies have shown that they pose a risk to other pollinator species and birds too.

The chain joins not only its main competitor, Home Depot, but more than 20 other garden-supply retailers and nurseries that are either labeling or limiting products treated with neonics. It has been a fast shift across the industry: Back in August 2013, testing conducted by environmental groups Friends of the Earth–U.S. and Pesticide Research Institute found that more than half of the plants sold at Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Orchard Supply Hardware (which has since been acquired by Lowe’s) had been treated with neonic pesticides. Last February, more than half a million people signed a petition asking Home Depot and Lowe’s to change their practices.

Neonics remain widely used in agricultural settings, but thanks to the change among retailers, backyard gardens and landscaping—including, eventually, the Meyer lemon I will plant—will be a safer for the birds and the bees.