Sometimes, what we hope will be a good thing, turns out in the worst possible way. Here’s a perfect example of completely truebut totally misleadingadvertising.
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 oneslike lady bugs, and pollinatorslike 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 walkwayall 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 effectsincluding deathin 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.