Giant Eagle, Whole Foods Market and Walmart have taken the top three spots on Friends of the Earth’s latest Bee-Friendly Retailer Scorecard, which ranks 25 of the largest U.S. grocery retailers on pesticides and pollinator protection in their food and beverage supply chains. Ten retailers improved their scores since last year.
In first place, Giant Eagle is the only major U.S. food retailer to make a timebound commitment toward reducing pesticide use to protect pollinators. The company’s pollinator health policy aims to eliminate the use of nitroguanidine neonicotinoids — banned in the European Union since 2018 but still permitted in the United States — from its produce supply chain by 2025.
This year, four more companies, Walmart, Meijer, Target and Dollar Tree, implemented new pollinator health policies that encourage suppliers to eliminate or reduce the use of neonicotinoids, making 10 in total since 2018. Friends of the Earth cited research showing that U.S. agriculture has become 48 times more toxic to bees and other beneficial insects since neonicotinoids were introduced in the 1990s.
“Americans are more aware of how brittle the food systems that support us are than ever before,” said Kendra Klein, senior scientist at Washington, D.C.-based Friends of the Earth. “From climate change to biodiversity loss, threats are piling up that could one day lead to bare shelves at the grocery store. Science has clearly shown us that when pollinators disappear, food disappears, so we are counting on our food retailers to lead the way and protect the small but mighty pollinators that their supply chains depend on.”
Food retailers can use their considerable economic power to transform the food system. Together, the 25 evaluated companies controlled $1.65 trillion in food and beverage sales in 2020, with the four biggest — Walmart, Amazon, Kroger and Costco — controlling $924 billion.
Seventy-four percent of Americans believe that grocery stores should back efforts to protect pollinators, according to new polling from YouGov commissioned by Friends of the Earth. Further, 83% of customers believe it’s important to eliminate pesticides that are harmful to pollinators from agriculture.
This year, Walmart and Giant Eagle also revealed timebound commitments to expand ecological farming practices known as integrated pest management (IPM) in their produce supply chains, with the aim of reducing overall use of toxic pesticides. Both grocers will require all produce suppliers to become certified for IPM practices by 2025 through a vetted list of third-party certifications. Giant Eagle suppliers that are not able to get certified will be required to create an IPM plan reviewed by a third party that meets key stringent criteria.
Friends of the Earth also evaluated companies based on organic offerings, pointing to research showing that organic farming can help reverse pollinator declines and can support up to 50% more pollinating species than conventional agriculture. Just two companies — Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s — have met the organization’s request to expand organic offerings to 15% of overall sales by 2025.
While agriculture accounts for the vast majority of pesticide use, the scorecard also gave points to 11 companies for complementary policies in their home and garden supply chains, including credit to Giant Eagle for taking all neonicotinoid and glyphosate products off store shelves and to Dollar Tree for committing to eliminate the use of nitroguanidine neonicotinoids and glyphosate in its flower supply chain by 2024.
These retailer commitments come in the wake of a multiyear effort led by Friends of the Earth and its allies to address huge losses in pollinator populations linked to agricultural pesticide use. The campaign is supported by more than 100 beekeeping, farming, farmworker, consumer and environmental organizations, including the Brattleboro, Vt.-based Campaign for Healthier Solutions, which works with dollar store chains on phasing out harmful chemicals.
Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart operates more than 10,500 stores under 48 banners in 24 countries, and e-commerce websites, employing 2.2 million-plus associates worldwide. Walmart U.S. is No. 1 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2021 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America, while Walmart-owned Sam’s Club ranks No. 9 on the list. Seattle-based Amazon is No. 2 on PG’s list, while its Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods subsidiary is No. 26 on PG’s list. Cincinnati-based Kroger is No. 3; Issaquah, Wash.-based Costco is No. 4; Monrovia, Calif.-based Trader Joe’s is No. 28; Chesapeake, Va.-based Dollar Tree is No. 30; and Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle is No. 37.