Spinning the truth in favor of pesticides

Lady bug on a yellow petal.

Sometimes, what we hope will be a good thing, turns out in the worst possible way. Here’s a perfect example of completely true—but totally misleading—advertising.

If you recall, last year a number of home and garden retailers were called on the carpet for selling “bee-friendly” plants that were, in fact, treated with systemic neonicotinoids. Consumers complained, and some of these stores vowed to label such plants in the future.

Yesterday, I was sent a photograph of a new plant tag that will be used by some retailers to disclose the use of neonicotinoids. At the moment, I don’t have permission to use the photo, so you will have to bear with me here.

The tag is one of those vertical plastic things with a point on one end that can be stuck in a pot. The one I saw says, “This plant is protected from problematic aphids, white flies, beetles, mealy bugs and other unwanted pests by Neonicotinoids.” The names of the pests (aphids, white flies, beetles, mealy bugs) are printed in black, all caps, on a white background. All the other words are printed in a tan color, upper/lower case, on a white background. Needless to say, the pest names are extremely visible, the rest is harder to read.

The problem with this tag is not what is says, but what it doesn’t. It doesn’t say that the plant is also protected from most other insects, including beneficial ones—like lady bugs, and pollinators—like butterflies and bees. While asserting the plant is protected from “unwanted” pests, it fails to mention it is also poisonous to the rest, to the “wanted” insects.

The retailers are assuming that the consumer will see the list of bad guys and decide it is good to be protected from all those voracious predators. Most will never give a thought to other insects. I have no doubt this little marketing ploy will work just fine.

The tag reminds me of those television commercials that show a handsome, smiling couple strolling hand-in-hand on a flower-lined walkway—all of it made possible by some prescription drug the guy is taking. In the background, faster than we can comprehend, a voice is listing the seven dozen most common side effects—including death—in a merry, lilting voice.

I can envision these tactics spreading throughout our culture. Imagine ordering a salad. In small tan-on-white letters the menu reads, “This salad is protected from problematic cabbage worms, caterpillars, maggots, aphids, and flies by neonicotinoids.” Then, in large print, “Comes with your choice of French, Thousand Island, Blue Cheese, or Ranch.”

The only difference between my imagined salad and a real one you can order today? Today’s salad comes with neonicotinoids embedded in the veggies without disclosure. Maybe the plants tags are not so bad after all.



  • The logic of business is grotesque.
    The problem for me is that they don’t see themselves as doing anything wrong or even questionable.

  • This stuff is just so very disturbing! It is so hard to be a discriminating buyer when you are sorta duped at every turn…

  • They say money is the root of all evil. Back in the fifties they used DDT to kill Mosquitos, and kids being kids we would chase the truck. Yeah I know, dumb. Of course the company that manufactured the chemical said it was safe for humans. Now, we know better. Neonicotinoids? It’s all about money. Humans and bugs come in second.

    • Thanks, Tim. Trouble is the photo was on someone’s blog and it has the blogger’s copyright notice. I’m not reviewing her blog, I’m commenting on something I saw on her blog, so I don’t have the right to use her photo.

  • The Lord said “Beware of doctors and lawyers.” You can bet that lawyers are saying that there is nothing wrong with the advertisements. But omission is just as bad/evil as commission. Jesus said “Let your Yes be yes and your No be no”. There is no middle ground. Everyone has to pay in the end. Those that don’t ever see the error of their ways with such misleading advertisement will have to answer for their “smart ideas”. But that doesn’t help the innocent people that are relying on people being honest. All of this is done for the bottom line….filling the pockets of the shareholders. Wonder if most of them would care if they knew the truth.

    Wish we could go back to simpler times when people were straight up when speaking. You may not have liked what was being said. It may have been pro-racisim. But at least you knew the facts. The reasoning may have been skewed but there wasn’t much lying going on.

    This probably will not be posted. But at least I got a chance to vent about society/humanity “going to hell in a hand basket”!!!!

  • I worry about the young children and the young women who are getting pregnant now, eating this produce, which is treated with neonicotinoid. This pesticide is contributing the the annihilation of the honeybee population, the bumblebees, and other pollinators too. Does it not stand to reason that it is equally harmful to a developing embryo? Or to a small child? Ugh. At this point, I think the only way to be safe about what goes into our gardens (and our bodies) is to purchase non-GMO treated organic seeds and grow our own food. I do know that I will be buying flower seeds of this type and start with seedlings from now on, for flowers in my bee garden. I can’t change my neighbors gardening habits but I can change mine.

    • VBR,

      Back when I was in ag school, systemic pesticides were not allowed on human food; they could only be used on ornamental crops. Then, when I wasn’t paying attention, all that changed (I believe it was in the 80s, but I could be wrong about that). I am amazed that our government allows poisons that kill certain types of animals (i.e. insects) to be used on human food, especially since they can’t be washed off or removed. All living organisms are similar and are made of basically the same stuff. The neonicotinoids haven’t been around long enough for us to know the long-term effects on humans, and since testing on humans is not allowed, only time will tell. It seems to me that small things that develop rapidly, like fetuses, might be especially vulnerable.

      I’m not wholesale against pesticides; I believe under certain circumstances they can provide a service. But should we be serving them in the school lunch programs? I think not.

  • Rusty, thanks for the info.

    I’m also very concerned about these chemicals. The argument for safety with humans is that the neonics are targeted at invertebrate nicontinic receptors that are structurally different than mammalian receptors, so much less toxic to mammals. This is good – but probably not good enough that you want to eat the stuff! The problem I have with the neonics is that they stick around and accumulate within the target individual at the target receptor cites – and cause biological effect at any dose. Being water soluble they leach from the soil, but then where do they go? Lakes, streams and eventually the ocean I suspect.

    Very low doses are known to cause suppression of the natural immune response in honey bees. This is my biggest concern – because the effect is subtle and not easily attributable to the chemicals. Instead viruses get the blame where really it is the poor immunity of the bees that give the viruses the upper hand. This effect is probably not confined to just honey bees either.

    • Gary,

      Thanks. Good information. I worry about many of the products that are considered safe for humans because, historically, we have so often been wrong. Think DDT, asbestos, transfat, phenacetin, BPA, mothballs, flame retardants, lead, Vioxx, thalidomide, and atrazine to name just a few.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.