Coles and Woolworths are abandoning an insecticide product which contains a controversial ingredient that has been linked to harming bee populations essential for pollination, The New Daily can reveal.
More than 30,000 Australians have signed a petition, launched by global consumer group SumOfUs, calling on Australian retailers to stop selling insecticides containing neonicotinoids, including Yates Confidor which has been stocked by Woolworths.
The same product is also listed on Coles Online.
This comes over a week after Bunnings and Mitre 10 announced they would pull all items containing neonicotinoids from their shelves.
Research in recent years has found that even small amounts of this ingredient can be harmful to bees, shutting down their brains.
The chemicals impaired bees’ ability to remember how to return to the colony and to connect the scent of a flower to a food reward (pollen).
Other research has suggested exposure to neonicotinoids causes lower reproductive success and leads to bees dying sooner than they otherwise would.
‘Pesticides often kill bees’
Bees play a crucial role in the ecosystem in facilitating pollination.
With about one-third of Australian fruit and vegetable crops reliant on pollination, a reduction would in turn lead to a decline in plants setting seed and their ability to develop fruit.
Dr Katja Hogendoorn of University of Adelaide, who researches the behavioural ecology and evolution of native bees, said there was “no doubt pesticides often kill bees”.
“Having a beautiful garden is a luxury. Bees are not, they are essential,” she said.
“The banning of neonicotinoids for home gardeners by Bunnings and Mitre 10 is a great development. I hope the other companies follow suit.”
Dr Hogendoorn said some produce – including melons, berries, zucchini, apples, pears, kiwifruit, passionfruit, macadamia nuts and almonds – cannot be produced without bees.
She said a substantial decline in these fruit and vegetable crops would mean more expensive fruit for Australians consumers.
Organic alternatives to neonicotinoid chemicals
Dr Hogendoorn added that there are some bee-friendly pesticides that gardeners could use as an alternative such as Bt, soap, sulphur and oils.
Dr Paul De Barro, a research director at CSIRO Health and Biosecurity, advised gardeners to avoid using any insecticides on plants while they are flowering when insects, including bees, are visiting.
Woolworths told The New Daily on Tuesday it had succumbed to consumer pressure to remove Confidor from its shelves.
“We expect the product will no longer be on our shelves from the end of June this year,” a Woolworths spokesman said.
Coles said it will also cease sale of insecticides containing neonicotinoids this year.
Dr De Barro said neonicotinoids are a very common chemical used on Australian crops.
He said he did not believe neonicotinoids could be solely blamed for harm to bees. He also questioned the impact of residential gardeners when compared to larger-scale pesticide use for agricultural purposes.
“There are a range of other products sold by Australian retailers that would have a toxic impact on bees,” Dr De Barro told The New Daily.
“One example is an ingredient called pyrethroid which is found in fly spray. This can be deadly lethal to honey bees.
“People will still look for alternatives when they want a spray and they might use more of another product that is potentially more damaging.”
A Yates spokeswoman told The New Daily that the company was working with retailers to meet consumer needs for insecticides.
“[Woolworths’ decision] follows a similar decision by Bunnings which affects all products containing neonicotinoids within their stores, including products manufactured by Scotts and Richgro,” she said.
“All Yates products meet strict regulatory guidelines and use ingredients that are tested and independently approved for use in Australia.”