Lowe's, the home improvement store, late last week committed to eliminate bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides from its stores by 2019.
Neonicotinoids, or neonics, are essentially nerve agents, in the same class as nicotine. Plants absorb the chemicals into their cells, making every part of the plant - even the fruit - toxic to insects.
Home improvement stores like Lowe's and Home Depot sell the plants that many of us put in our gardens, feeling good that we're helping the birds and the bees. But those plants are raised from seeds treated with neonics, meaning that they're actually poisonous to the insects we're trying to help.
From the Lowe's press release:
Following studies that say many factors, including neonicotinoid pesticides, could potentially damage the health of pollinators, Lowe's has committed to take several steps to support pollinator health. Lowe's will phase out the sale of products that contain neonic pesticides within 48 months as suitable alternatives become commercially available. Lowe's 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.
Neonics were adopted in the early 1990s because they worked well and were thought to be safer than evil DDT. And for humans, as far as we know, neonics are safer.
But a 2014 report by Friends of the Earth found that at least half of plants bought at big home improvement stores contained neonics, which have been found to be deadly to bees and other insects.
Some scientists believe that the pesticides' effects on bees is a warning sign that the chemicals may also pose health issues for people.
Lisa Archer, Food & Technology Program Director at Friends of the Earth, said in a FOE press release: "We are pleased Lowe's is listening to consumer concerns and to the growing body of science telling us we need to move away from bee-toxic pesticides by taking steps to be part of the solution to the bee crisis.
"Bees are canaries in the coalmine for our food system and everyone, including the business community, must act fast to protect them."