Pesticides Can Kill (Reputations) [Editorial] | Today’s Garden Center

Carol Miller Nov 10/2014

In late October, Bell Nursery owner Gary Mangum showed a room of his peers a video he and a team of allies had created on the topic of neonicotinoids.

But first, he showed a video of a neonicotinoid protest at a local Home Depot. A group organized by Friends Of The Earth dressed in bee costumes to voice their concern about how neonicotinoids kill bees. In the video, a woman asked a guy pulling a wagon and wearing an elaborate costume (think a fuzzy, yellow and black fez with antennae and a bulbous, fuzzy torso) about what he was protesting. She wasn’t baiting him, just asking straight forward questions. He answered defensively, accusing her of working for Home Depot or a chemical company. She told him she didn’t, that she was just curious. He started on a rant filled with so many errors, it was obvious this guy was reacting emotionally to the call to protest without any real understanding of the issue.

And it turned out he was the spokesperson for the protest.

The second video is one Mangum, AmericanHort and other allies are putting together for the industry. It reviews the current scientific evidence of bee die-offs and the impact of pesticides in general and neonicotinoids specifically.

Something struck me as I watched those two videos. In the first, the protesters were full of passion. Yes, they looked silly in their bee costumes and the leader came off as an idiot, but they were all sincere. In the second, it was a series of fact-based scientific types discussing bee health, how neonicotinoids work and so on. Not a scrap of passion was evident.

While the second video will be important in educating our industry so it’s better equipped to talk to the public, we need to find a way to connect to the public.

Passion Matters

The average person is concerned with bee die-offs. Colony collapse has been making the news for years, with reporters outlining how it may affect our food supply for fruits, nuts and vegetables.

The public has heard a parade of reasons behind the die-offs. Cell phones were blamed for a while, then viruses. Today, if you ask someone about why bees are dying, you’ll hear that pesticides are the main reason. The person you ask may not be aware of the word “neonicotinoid,” nor the story behind the improper application of the pesticide that killed off 50,000 bees. But they do know that pesticides are killing bees.

And they’re right. Pesticides can kill bees when misused.

Perhaps we can draw an analogy to human drugs. Drugs in the wrong doses can kill, but we wouldn’t want to ban their use. Take nitroglycerin. It can be used as an explosive, or it can be used to prevent a heart attack. People have died from accidental overdoses of Tylenol. But in correct doses, it makes life easier.

In Mangum’s educational video, one story stood out as a possible tale worth retelling. Native hemlocks in New England were attacked by an invasive pest that killed off almost 6 million trees. Only about 2 percent survived — those that were treated with neonicotinoids.

Armstrong Growers’ James Russell had another suggestion: Put the emphasis on the need to feed bees with flowering plants. A local bee keeper uses Armstrong’s property to give bees access to its fields and the surrounding groves, and the local media picked up on that story. We can legitimately and sincerely, promote our industry as a bee refuge for starving bees.

This storm over neonicotinoids may very well fade away. But something else will inevitably take its place. Unless we find a way to consistently present ourselves to the public for all the good we do for the environment and the levels we go to act responsibly (think of recycled water, which is a standard practice for growers), others will tell our story for us. And probably not in a way that is fair or healthy.

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