Letter to the editor: Are our chrysanthemums killing the bees?

Recently I bought a few chrysanthemums and asters from a local hardware store, but as I was about to plant them, I wondered if they too had been laced with the neonicotinoids I’d so carefully avoided when buying my summer bedding flowers.

Neonicotinoids are neurotoxic insecticides. They are systemic, permeate the entire plant and endure for three years, building up in the soil and water runoff. Not only do they kill the bugs that feast on plants, but also the pollinators who are responsible for one out of every three bites we humans eat. Songbirds who eat neonic-infected bugs are dying at a much more alarming rate than seed eating birds. White tailed deer and fish are also at risk.

This information comes from a very accessible webinar: “One Square Foot of Grass can have enough Neonics to Kill a Million Bees,” at the Pollinator Pathways website, https://www.pollinator-pathway.org/.

The speakers are Dan Raichel, acting director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Pollinator Initiative, and Dr. Kathleen Nolan, president of the Physicians for Social Responsibility, NY Chapter and senior research director at Catskill Mountainkeeper. Listening to the webinar, I learned some disturbing facts on how neonics are affecting humans, too. Year after year, neonics build up in the soil and water so that now nearly one third of Long Island’s groundwater is affected. The CDC estimates that on any given day, half of all Americans are exposed to neonicitinoids. Chronic exposure in pregnant women causes brain damage to their children. Eating organic food and using an advanced water filtration system is recommended, but not affordable for everyone. Moreover, the decline in pollinators is lowering crop yields so that good nutrition is becoming unaffordable.

What can be done? VPIRG has begun a public awareness campaign focused on phasing out the use of neonic coated seeds to save our pollinators. In Quebec and Ontario, where this has already happened, there has been no drop in crop yield or profit to farmers. VPIRG’s goal is to have legislation in Vermont drafted and presented to the legislature this winter. Go to popvt.org to sign VPIRG’s petition in favor of this legislation.

Meanwhile, what do we do with our beautiful mums? In my fruitless search for local, organic chrysanthemums, I finally accepted that almost all mums grown by conventional nurseries contain neonicotinoids, even those that were started from cuttings. If they don’t, they are not labeled neonic-free. As Dr. Nolan said, “If it’s a pretty plant, we’re attracting insects to their death.” She suggested keeping the mums inside and being careful not to compost them. The nerve effects of neonics are permanent and build up over time. We don’t want to feed ourselves, our children and our guests from food grown with neonic compost.

Let’s get out of this science experiment that we didn’t sign up for. Plant hardy mums and asters native to New England that have been grown from organic seed. Support VPIRG and sign the petition. Join Pollinator Pathways of Addison County, [email protected]. 

Maybe someday we can find safe and beautiful chrysanthemums to grace our porches and public roadways, but it will take effort today.

Marguerite Gregory


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