In the wake of a major victory for European environmental organizations, two of the U.K.’s leading home improvement retailers, B&Q and Wickes, have pledged to halt the sale of products containing nicotine-based insecticides that have been linked by researchers to a dramatic population decline among the insect world’s most prolific pollinators.

Both retailers announced earlier this week that any gardening products containing neonicotinoids, a relatively new family of chemical nerve agents recently identified by the European Food Safety Authority as having a detrimental effect on bees, will be pulled from store shelves. In the case of B&Q, one product containing the widely used imidacloprid will be yanked while Wickes will remove any consumer pesticide products containing thiamethoxam. According to the Guardian, these two compounds along with a third neonicotinoid called clothianidin are believed to be a threat to struggling bee populations.

Bayer CropScience, the agrochemical subgroup of German aspirin giant and former heroin pusher Bayer AG, is the primary manufacturer of neonicotinoid products.

Although the crucial winged critters have nabbed stateside headlines in recent months for terrorizing unsuspecting New Yorkers and Canadian homeowners alike, Colony Collapse Disorder remains a very real threat with neonicotinoids and other pesticides fingered as one of the many factors that play a role in the spread of the damaging — damaging not only to the bees themselves but to agricultural operations across North America and Europe — and somewhat mysterious phenomenon along with environmental stressors, poor nutrition, and the spread of the parasitic varroa mite. Some studies have concluded that neonicotinoids are the culprit behind CCD.

Said a spokesperson for B&Q following the company's announcement:

We have been watching the debate that is developing about the use of pesticides, in particular neonicotinoids, and their potential effect on the UK bee population. Whilst we believe that the vast majority of pesticides are not injurious to bees when used in accordance with the instructions, we have some concerns about the potential for harm to be caused by the unintentional misuse of products containing imidacloprid. In recent years, this active ingredient has been phased out of many retail products, and we currently sell only one garden insecticide that uses this active. As a result of our assessment, we have decided to withdraw it from sale and are investigating alternative treatments to meet customer needs.

Andrew Pendleton of Friends of the Earth, one of the organizations that pushed for the ban of neonicotinoids, had this to say:

We are delighted [the two retailers] are withdrawing these pesticides. Other retailers must follow suit and take action to protect our bees. The spotlight now falls on the UK government. Ministers must help safeguard our beeds by immediately suspending the three pesticides identified by European food safety scientists, and ensuring farmers have safe alternatives. Declining bee numbers are a real threat to food production.

Upon the EFSA’s landmark announcement earlier this month that neonicotinoids do indeed pose an “unacceptable” threat to bees, Pendleton tells the Guardian that “this is a major turning point in the battle to save our bees. EFSA have sounded the death knell for one of the chemicals most frequently linked to bee decline and cast serious doubt over the safety of the whole neonicotinoid family.”

Despite continuously mounting pressure from beekeepers and environemental groups, it appears that the US Environmental Protection Agency is a long ways off from banning neonicotinoids in both commercial agriculture applications and in home gardening products although it does recognize pesticide poisoning as one of the many potential causes of CCD and is currently re-evaluating the insecticide. France, Germany, Slovenia, and Italy have all temporarily or permanently suspended the use of neonicotinoids.

More over at the Guardian on the recent announcement. Fast Company also has a fantastic, in-depth article from 2010 detailing the stateside push to remove neonicotinoids from the market.

Via [The Guardian]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

British home improvement giants to banish bee-harming products
Two major home improvement retailers in the U.K. pledge to pull gardening products containing bee-harming insecticides from their shelves.