Last Wednesday morning, thirty people braved the cold to swarm a Minneapolis Home Depot, asking the store to “show bees some love” on Valentine’s Day.
Babies in bee suits, beekeepers on bicycles, and a slew of other Minnesotans were eager to urge home garden stores to stop selling bee-harming neonicotinoid pesticides — and plants pre-treated with "neonics." Retailers like Home Depot have a unique opportunity to act as industry leaders by taking these products, known to endanger bees, off their shelves.
Since I was visiting our Oakland office last week, I got to join my PAN colleagues and other bee-lovers swarming a Home Depot in the Bay Area. There were similar events in Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Eugene. These coast-to-coast actions mirror bigger national changes, as decisionmakers start to rethink their rubber-stamping of neonicotinoids.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is currently reviewing neonics. After 50,000 bumblebees died in Wilsonville, Oregon last year, a bill to restrict neonics made significant progress through the Oregon legislature. And in Congress, new co-sponsors continue to sign on to the Save America's Pollinator Act.
These are all hopeful indicators of growing momentum — exactly the kind of momentum we need, if we hope to see real action at the federal level to protect bees. But so far, EPA has held out; the agency still doesn't plan to complete its review of neonicotinoids until 2018 or later.
New science, same message
Retailers, regulatory agencies, and state and federal legislatures have been slow to protect bees from pesticides — but it’s certainly not for lack of scientific evidence, which keeps piling up.
A new study released in December found that neonicotinoids are present in significant concentrations in guttation fluid — droplets of "dew" on plants that bees drink. And a few weeks ago, another report found that common crop pesticides kill bee larvae when they make their way into beehives.
As these and other studies emerge, it helps us understand the science behind pesticides and bee declines a little more fully. While habitat loss, pathogens and other factors like nutrition also clearly play a role, the message remains consistent: many pesticides are harming bees. Period.
More "bee washing"
As the body of science linking bee declines and pesticides grows ever stronger, the pesticide industry is hard at work to distract decisionmakers and confuse the public about the causes of bee declines.
While we were busy delivering Valentines messages to Home Depot last week, Bayer — one of the "Big 6" pesticide corporations, and one of the world's main producer of neonicotinoids — was writing a check to bee researchers at the University of California-Davis. Bayer made no secret of its contribution. In fact, the company’s visit to UC Davis was just one stop on the its high-profile “Bee Care Tour.”
As public and regulatory momentum builds to protect bees from harmful pesticides, industry giants like Bayer have upped their efforts to craft a "bee-friendly" image. These “bee washing" antics have multiplied as bee declines become more serious, with corporations positioning themselves as friends of the pollinators.
In the past year, Bayer and Monsanto have organized conferences, built “bee centers,” and announced “bee care tours,” working to hone their credibility as concerned advocates for bee health. Along the way, they've funded research that points to factors besides pesticides as driving causes of pollinator declines. And all the while, they keep selling and marketing neonicotinoids, the most widely used class of pesticides on the planet.
This bee-related PR push is relatively recent, but the dirty tricks of the pesticide industry are nothing new. As an organizer, I believe that the only counterweight to industry’s money and influence is our strength in numbers. When more than half a million bee lovers asked Home Depot and Lowe's to stop selling neonicotinoids last week, it reminded me that our power is growing. It's about time for decisionmakers to start listening.
Photo courtesy of Liz Welch (from Organic Consumers Assn).