Neonicotinoids In Your Bee Friendly Plants?

Reports from Friends of the Earth have confirmed a concern I have had for some years now:  the issue of contamination of ‘bee friendly plants’ bought from retail outlets, being contaminated with neonicotinoids.  In particular, I’ve had major concerns about Dutch bulbs, due to a Dutch documentary I saw regarding the use of neonicotinoids in their cultivation.

Update:  Please note, this page was written in 2014.  The information may or may not be applicable today.


Two key reports, one from the USA, one from Europe:


Friends of the Earth in the USA have raised concerns about plants being cultivated using neonicotinoids.  Is such cultivation using neonicotinoids happening in other countries?  Here is a quote from their report, 'Gardeners Beware':


Greenpeace also conducted a study:

'A Toxic Eden:  Poisons in Your Garden; An analysis of bee-harming pesticides in ornamental plants sold in Europe'.

Samples were taken from 10 European countries:

and Switzerland.

Pesticides, including neonicotinoids, which have particular properties, such as being systemic and persistent in soil.  (read more here).

Who lobbies the EU most?  Agri business.  Source:  Corporate Europe.Who lobbies the EU most? Agri business. Source: Corporate Europe.

Samples from the UK were not included.

(Copy and paste this link in a new window to see the report:

Key points from the report:

  • Results were gathered from the laboratory analysis of ornamental plants sourced from garden centres, supermarkets and DIY-stores in ten European countries.

  • The samples comprised more than 35 popular varieties like viola, bellflower and lavender which are attractive to bees.

  • Of the 86 samples analysed, pesticide residues were found in 84 (97,6%) of these flowering plants. Only 2% of the samples contained no detectable residues.
  • Insecticides regarded as of particular toxicological significance to bees were found frequently. In 68 of the 86 tested ornamental plants (79% of the samples) bee-harming pesticides were detected.
  • The three neonicotinoid pesticides which have been restricted Europe-wide for certain agricultural uses in order to prevent exposure to bees were found in almost half of the samples, partly in high concentrations:

             - 43% of the samples contained Imidacloprid,

               - 8% Thiamethoxam

               - 7% Clothianidin.

Do We Need To Be Concerned About Contamination Of Bee Friendly Plant With Pesticide In The UK?

I believe we do, for several reasons:

1.    The EU moratorium (note, not a ban) covered only 3 of the neonicotinoids (and Fipronil) available to growers of garden plants.  Other neonicotinoids are still on the market, and have not as yet been examined by EFSA, such as Thiacloprid and Acetamiprid. These are still available to gardeners also.

2.    Neonicotinoids are used by growers of ornamental plants in the UK.  This is confirmed by usage statistics from FERA, but note that at the time of writing, statistics are only available up to the year 2012.

Imidacloprid, now restricted from use on flowering crops, was certainly used in the cultivation of ornamental plants industry in the UK:

The two neonicotinoids, Thiacloprid and Acetamiprid, have also been used:


  • According to FERA: "Identical results may occur in consecutive years because crops are not surveyed annually. Figures are extrapolated until the next survey for that crop. Gaps may occur between years e.g a jump from 1995 to 1998 where no usage was recorded for that active/crop. Click here to see which crops were surveyed in each year."

  • 1Total weight of active applied over a survey year.
  • Statistics can be seen by exmanining government statistics here:

My concern, then, is this:

The moratorium on the 3 neonics (and Fipronil) came in to play in 2013.

Will growers simply switch to using more Thiacloprid and Acetamiprid, on the bases that these two neonicotinoids are not restricted for use?  We will have to wait for the next set of statistics to become available before we find out.

I write this, having noted and heard in a major DIY chain, a store announcement stating that the retailer has banned 3 neonicotinoids (i.e. the ones EFSA had restricted). 

Only thing is, there is no mention of the others, which are also still sold to gardeners, and are available on the shelves. How can we know growers won't switch to one of the other neonicotinoids?


So what can we do?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Grow from (untreated) seeds (many bee-friendly plants are easily grown from seed, including, Canterbury Bells, Cornflower, Cosmos, Lupin, Linnaria, Polemonium, Poppy). See bee friendly plants.
  • Share bee-friendly plants with friends and family you trust, from older, neonic-free stock
  • Buy from a local nursery.  Check that they do not use neonicotinoids, including Thiacloprid and Acetamiprid.

  • Help to keep up the pressure of retailers and the government for a ban on the use of neonicotinoids.

  • Spread the word!

  • Leave out the pesticides!

Did France ban neonics?

Well, sort of...Read

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