Friends of the Earth has cited research showing that U.S. agriculture has become 48 times more toxic to bees and other insects since the start of neonicotinoid use three decades ago.
The Kroger Co. has become the latest major U.S. grocer to reveal commitments aimed at reducing the use of toxic pesticides in its fresh fruit and vegetable supply chain. Since 2018, 13 major U.S. food retailers representing more than $1.4 billion in annual food and beverage sales have instituted policies to reduce toxic pesticides in their supply chains. Kroger’s commitment comes in the wake of similar policies from Whole Foods, which rolled out a pesticide policy in December 2023, as well as Walmart and Giant Eagle.
These industry efforts are the result of a multiyear initiative headed by Friends of the Earth (FOE) and supported by 100-plus environmental, public health, farmer and farmworker organizations across the United States. FOE’s Bee-Friendly Retailer Scorecard tracks company progress.
“We now understand that biodiversity collapse is as pressing a threat to planetary health and our food supply as climate change, and the over 1 billion pounds of pesticides used annually in U.S. agriculture are drivers of both,” said Kendra Klein, deputy director of science at Washington, D.C.-based FOE. “It’s past time for U.S. food retailers to take swift action to eliminate the use of toxic pesticides in their supply chains and speed the transition to organic and other ecologically regenerative approaches to agriculture. Despite this promising industry trend, efforts fall far short of what is needed to protect pollinators, people and the planet from toxic pesticides.”
Currently, Giant Eagle is ahead of other grocers in its pesticide policy, which aims to eliminate what FOE has dubbed “the worst neonicotinoid pesticides” in the company’s fresh produce supply by 2025. FOE has cited research showing that U.S. agriculture has become 48 times more toxic to bees and other insects since the start of neonicotinoid use three decades ago. Additionally, the organization has noted that pesticides decimate soil life and harm human health. The European Union has already banned “the worst neonicotinoids,” but their use is still permitted in U.S. agriculture.
Companies are also increasingly requiring Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices in their supply chains. Four companies – Giant Eagle, Kroger, Walmart and Whole Foods – require all fresh produce suppliers to adopt IPM and verify their compliance using a list of third-party certifications vetted by the IPM Institute of North America. IPM can lower the use of pesticides by showing farmers how to use nonchemical methods of managing pests first, such as rotating crops, planting resistant varieties and fostering beneficial insects.
Meanwhile, nine other companies — Albertsons, ALDI, Costco, CVS, Dollar Tree, Meijer, Rite Aid, Southeastern Grocers and Target — have developed policies that encourage food and beverage suppliers to reduce use of pesticides of concern — among them neonicotinoids, organophosphates and glyphosate — and to shift to least-toxic approaches like IPM, but these policies don’t include metrics or targets for implementation.
Eco-friendly companies are also committed to increasing their organic offerings. The certification prohibits more than 900 synthetic pesticides otherwise allowed in agriculture. A growing body of scientific research also highlights organic farming’s ability to regenerate soil, conserve water, enhance resilience to droughts and floods, protect biodiversity, and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
Serving more than 11 million customers daily through digital shopping and retail food stores under a variety of banner names, Cincinnati-based Kroger is No. 4 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2023 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America. Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons is No. 9 on The PG 100. PG also named both companies as Retailers of the Century. Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle is No. 40 on The PG 100. Meanwhile, Walmart, Whole Foods (as part of Amazon), Costco, Target, CVS, Dollar Tree, Rite Aid, Meijer, ALDI and Southeastern Grocers are Nos. 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 21, 22, 23, 26, 44 on PG’s list.