(Reuters) - Home Depot and other U.S. companies are working to eliminate or limit use of a type of pesticide suspected of helping cause dramatic declines in honeybee populations needed to pollinate key American crops, officials said on Wednesday.
The moves include requiring suppliers to label any plants treated with neonicotinoid, or neonic, pesticides sold through home and garden stores.
Atlanta-based Home Depot, the world's largest home improvement retailer, is requiring its suppliers to start such labeling by the fourth quarter of this year, said Ron Jarvis, the company's vice president of merchandising/sustainability. Home Depot is also running tests in several states to see if suppliers can eliminate neonics in their plant production without hurting plant health, he said.
"The Home Depot is deeply engaged in understanding the relationship of the use of certain insecticides on our live goods and the decline in the honeybee population," Jarvis said in an email.
Also on Wednesday, BJ's Wholesale Club [BJ.UL], a warehouse retailer with more than 200 locations along the East Coast, said it was asking all of its vendors to provide plants free of neonics by the end of 2014 or to label such products as requiring "caution around pollinators" like bees.
At least 10 other smaller retailers, with locations in Minnesota, Colorado, Maryland and California, have announced plans to limit or eliminate neonics from plant products.
The class of pesticides known as neonics are sold by agrichemical companies to boost yields of staple crops such as corn, but are also used widely on annual and perennial plants used in lawns and gardens.
A report issued on Wednesday by the environmental group Friends of the Earth said that 36 out of 71, or 51 percent, of garden plant samples purchased at top garden retailers in 18 cities in the United States and Canada contained neonic pesticides.
Scientists, consumer groups, beekeepers and others say bee deaths are linked to the neonic pesticides. But Monsanto,, Bayer and other agrichemical companies say a mix of factors such as mites are killing the bees.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates total losses of managed honeybee colonies at 23 percent over the winter of 2013-14, the latest in a series of annual declines.
Last week, the White House announced a plan to fund new honeybee habitats and to form a task force to study how to reverse the honeybee declines. The bee die-off is worrisome for agriculture because honeybees pollinate plants that produce about a fourth of the food consumed by Americans.
An analysis of 800 peer-reviewed studies released this week by the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, a group of scientists from several countries, concluded that neonics were a key factor in bee declines and had other harmful effects on the environment.
(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)