Southeastern Grocers is 12th grocery retailer to create pollinator policy
by Kendra Klein, PhD, Deputy Director of Science
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This month, Southeastern Grocers became the twelfth major U.S. grocery retailer to create a pollinator health policy in response to Friends of the Earth’s Bee-Friendly Retailer Scorecard. The new policy states that the company will work with suppliers of fresh produce and flowers to grow products without the use of key harmful pesticides.
The policy calls out three problematic types of pesticides — neonicotinoids, organophosphates and glyphosate. These pesticides are incredibly dangerous to pollinator health. For example, a peer-reviewed study by Friends of the Earth found that U.S. agricultural operations have become 48 times more toxic to bees and other insects since the introduction of neonicotinoid insecticides 25 years ago. The European Union has banned all outdoor uses of the most concerning neonicotinoids, while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has failed to act.
This new commitment is an important step in a moment when 40% of insect pollinators face extinction. However, grocery retailers have to go further to help save the bees. Pollinator loss threatens food security in an already fragile supply chain. For instance, U.S. beekeepers reported the second highest annual losses ever recorded last year. Research indicates that pollinator loss has already resulted in decreased production of key crops like apples, cherries and tomatoes in the United States.
After another year of devastating losses to bees, grocery stores must accelerate their commitment to protect pollinators by setting measurable goals to eliminate bee-toxic pesticides in their food supply chains. To date, only Giant Eagle has taken an initial step in this direction by committing to end the use of neonicotinoids in its produce supply by 2025.
The same pesticides that threaten pollinators also harm human health, including the farmworkers and rural communities on the frontlines of exposure. Furthermore, these same chemicals threaten the soil life that is the heart of regenerative agriculture, and must be addressed in order to build healthy soils that sequester more carbon. This step will enhance farmers’ resilience to climate change and conserve water.
Southeastern Grocer’s policy recognizes that organic agriculture is protective of pollinator health. The organic certification prohibits the use of over 900 pesticides, including those of highest concern for the health of pollinators and people. Research shows that organic farming can help reverse pollinator declines and eating organic food rapidly decreases people’s exposure to pesticides.
Action against toxic pesticides will also align grocery stores with consumer expectations. According to recent polling commissioned by Friends of the Earth, 83% of Americans believe it is important to eliminate pesticides that are harmful to pollinators and human health from agriculture, and 74% believe grocery stores should support efforts to protect pollinators, such as bees and butterflies.
Friends of the Earth will release its 2022 edition of the Bee-Friendly Retailer Scorecard next month.