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Pollinators and Insects

Neonicotinoids Take Action, Provide Education

by Becky Hassebroek Chairman, Wildlife GardeningNGC Representative, National Wildlife Federation andMillion Pollinator Garden Challenge
March 19, 2020


                                                             TAKE ACTION, PROVIDE EDUCATION

Pollinators are essential to our world and play a large role in the foods we consume. According to Joe Lamp’l, host of the award-winning PBS television series “Growing a Greener World,” pollinators are responsible for more than one out of every three bites of food we eat or beverages we drink.


                                               “...she raised 64 monarchs from eggs or caterpillars” 

Our pollinators are under a national and global threat. Neonicotinoids (pronounced nee-oh-NIK-uh-tin-oyds), are systemic insecticides that began to be used in the mid-90s as a supposedly less-toxic alternative to those then on the market that were decided to be harmful to humans. They were deemed “reduced risk” by the Environmental Protection Agency and fast-tracked to market. They quickly became the most heavily used class of insecticides worldwide.

“Neonics” are similar in chemical structure to nicotine, and all seven of the chemicals classified as neonicotinoids control pests by binding to receptors in the insects’ nervous systems and blocking nerve impulses. Neonics are believed to be one of the main causes in the demise of our pollinators!
• They are highly toxic to insects and many animal species including beneficial insects and all of our pollinators!
• They persist in plants and soil for months to years after they’re applied and can accumulate from one season to another.
• They are water soluble and readily move into water bodies. The latest research found neonics in more than half of our streams!
• And, because they are absorbed by plant tissues and become systemic (even when sprayed on foliage), they move into pollen and nectar, thereby following a direct route to our pollinators!
• Neonicotinoids are present in a wider environment beyond the annuals and perennials in retail garden centers. They are widely used on farms and in other agricultural operations.

Recently, a concerned NGC member reported that milkweed— the host plant for monarch butterflies—for sale on shelves in a retail garden center at a leading national big box chain in her area, sported small tags indicating the plants had been treated with systemic neonicotinoids.

This NGC member made her voice heard. In bringing her discovery to the attention of the store’s manager, she was able to get all of the plants in her local store removed. She also shared the information with NGC. Upon the quick action and persistence of our NGC board members, the support of our partner the National Wildlife Federation, as well as our Million Pollinator Garden Challenge partners—the Xerces Society and The Pollinator Partnership—our concerns were brought to the chief executive officer of this national retail chain. The matter was researched by the firm, and according to its findings, an error in labeling had occurred on the grower’s assembly line. While we are relieved the milkweed plants at this particular store were not treated with poison—neonicotinoids—we should remain vigilant in our efforts to identify risks and provide education.

What You Can Do!
• Read labels.
• Not all stores will alert you to the use of neonicotinoids, so ask questions.
• Become educated on neonics and spread the word on the harm they pose to pollinators.
• Plant bee-friendly plants using only organic starts or untreated seeds in organic potting soil.
• Do not use neonics of any kind in your garden!
• Share your knowledge. This is a serious problem that requires a combined effort.
• Let your voice be heard!
• Need help? NGC has multiple resources to assist you.

You can make a difference.
Many of us have experienced firsthand the many benefits of belonging to NGC, but if you ever encounter the question: “What are the advantages to us in belonging to National Garden Clubs Inc.?” please share this story. It’s just one of the many examples of what we can accomplish together that might not be accomplished alone.


Becky Hassebroek Chairman, Wildlife Gardening
NGC Representative, National Wildlife Federation and
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge

Article reprinted with permission by  The National Garden Clubs, Inc., Summer 2017




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