Homebase caught in dispute over use of bee-harming pesticides

Homebase has clashed with Friends of the Earth after claims the garden retailer has failed to publicly commit to end the use and sale of restricted pesticides in its plant ranges.

Following research earlier this summer which revealed plants laced with toxic ‘neonicotinoids’ are being sold in British garden centres, Friends of the Earth undertook further investigation into the work of the 10 largest garden retailers in the UK – including Homebase – when it comes to banning the bee-harming pesticides from plants throughout the supply chain.

The campaign group’s investigation revealed that nine of the 10 garden retailers that were inspected have publicly told their suppliers not to use the toxic chemicals. But this public commitment has reportedly not been made by Homebase.

The Home Retail Group-owned retailer was quick to dismiss those claims, insisting that it has correctly followed Government guidelines on the matter.

A Homebase spokesperson said: “As the science surrounding bee populations matures, we will continue to work closely with our suppliers and partners to take responsible action with regards to ranges. 

“We remain vigilant and continue to be guided by Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) regarding the use and sale of pesticides.”

Supply chain challenge

But Friends of the Earth disagrees that Homebase has taken a vigilant stance when it comes to eliminating the bee-harming pesticides from its supply chain, and the campaign group claims it now has the evidence to prove it.

Friends of the Earth revealed to edie that plants at one Homebase garden centre in the East Sussex area contained traces of two of the three neonicotinoids that are outlawed within Europe, despite those plants being labelled as ‘bee-friendly’.

The group’s bee campaigner Nick Rau confirmed that four plants tested at the Homebase store “quite clearly” contained the banned neonic substances thiamethoxam and imidacloprid, including one scabious plant which had “huge levels” of imidacloprid shown to cause three times more harm to bees than alternatives.

The Homebase plants in question originated from countries such as Israel, Kenya and Columbia, along with other locations where the EU restrictions don’t apply. Rau is therefore calling on the retailer to step up its work with suppliers across the globe to end the use of bee-harming chemicals.

“[Homebase] don’t seem to have done their research,” Rau said. “We’re asking them to go back to the origins to see if they have checked the supply chain. That doesn’t seem to be what they’ve done. If they look towards their supply chain, or if they tested their plants, they would find it was a problem.”

Initially, eight of the 10 garden retailers inspected by Friends of the Earth told the organisation that they had informed suppliers not to use bee-harming pesticides in their plant ranges. This rose to nine on Monday (21 August) as Hillview, which operates nine garden centres in the UK, vowed not to sell products laced with these banned substances.

Rau confirmed that a couple of the garden centres investigated by Friends of the Earth are now looking to go beyond compliance by eliminating all nine neonics from their plant ranges.

‘Big issue’

The campaign group has vowed to keep up the pressure on Homebase until it makes its own public commitment on the matter.

“We will continue to draw attention to them,” Rau said. “It’s absolutely clear that the public don’t want plants with neonics in them. The science is growing, as is the public concern. Our intention is to keep the public informed. They are going to find it very difficult in the face of public opinion and the fact that the industry itself has shown that it recognises that these neonics are a problem and turning their back on the use.

“It is a big issue and we appreciate it takes time. Maybe the UK suppliers are doing the right thing, but they have to check that the regulations are adopted by their suppliers in turn.”

Garden retailers across the country are facing increased pressure to stop the sale of plants using pesticides linked to bee decline, with more than three-quarters of UK citizens said to oppose the practice. Some bee species are thought to have declined by up to 30% in the past 20 years due to the use of neonic pesticides on plants and crops.

In April, B&Q became the first home improvement retailer to announce it will grow its flowering plant range free from all neonics. More than 30,000 people have since signed Friends of the Earth’s online petition to encourage other major retailers to follow suit.


George Ogleby

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