Meijer, Target and Dollar Tree release new policies to help save the bees from toxic pesticides
by Kendra Klein, PhD, senior staff scientist
Bees and other pollinators are responsible for one in three bites of food we eat. Without them, a trip to your local grocery store would be a sad affair. Many fruit and veggie bins would be empty, jars of nuts and cans of beans would be sparse, delicious favorites like chocolate and coffee would be unavailable. Even dairy and meat cases would look bare, since bees pollinate alfalfa and other crops eaten by cows.
Why are bees dying? Along with climate change and habitat loss, toxic pesticides are a main driver of declines for pollinators and other beneficial insects that help farmers grow abundant food. In fact, US agriculture is now 48 times more toxic to bees and other insects since we started using a type of pesticide called neonicotinoids in the 1990s, according to a peer-reviewed study co-authored by Friends of the Earth.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently allows the use of dozens of pesticides that are acutely toxic to bees. And the EPA has failed to take action on over 70 toxic pesticides that are already banned in the European Union, including neonicotinoids. Meanwhile, pesticide companies like Bayer are reaping enormous profits from these toxic products.
This should raise alarm bells for grocery stores. Pollinator declines threaten the bottom line of grocery stores across the nation since pollinators provide an annual economic value of roughly $34 billion in the US. A lack of bees in agricultural areas has already decreased the production of delicious US crops like apples and cherries.
In fact, according to a recent poll, 74% of Americans believe grocery stores should support efforts to protect pollinators like bees and butterflies, and 83% believe it is important to eliminate pesticides that are harmful to pollinators from agriculture.
Some food retailers are paying attention and beginning to step up to address the routine and unnecessary use of toxic pesticides in their supply chains.
As a result of Friends of the Earth’s Bee-Friendly Retailer corporate pesticide campaign, this summer three of the largest US grocers — Meijer, Target and Dollar Tree — released new pollinator health policies. These policies encourage suppliers to reduce or eliminate use of bee-toxic pesticides including neonicotinoids, organophosphates, and glyphosate. And they encourage suppliers to shift toward ecological approaches like Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which decrease the need for pesticides in the first place.
Meijer and Target’s policies also recognize organic agriculture as part of the pollinator solution. Organic farmers are prohibited from using more than 900 toxic pesticides that are otherwise allowed in agriculture. Organic farming has been shown to help reverse pollinator declines and help beneficial insects like bees flourish.
These policies followed a few months after an industry-leading policy from Walmart, marking 10 major US retailers that have taken steps to address pesticides to protect pollinators.
Yet, even with this important momentum, the scope and implementation of policies across the sector fall far short of what is needed to protect pollinator populations and to protect people from the health impacts of toxic pesticides.
After another year of devastating losses to bees, all grocery stores should be setting measurable goals to eliminate toxic pesticides in their food supply chains. Retailers can also use their power to push the US government to follow the science and ban or significantly restrict use of bee-toxic pesticides.
For more information on whether your grocery store makes the grade on pollinator protection, check out Friends of the Earth’s Bee-Friendly Retailer Scorecard.