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Most Top Grocers Fail to Protect Bees: Report

A recent report rating 20 of the largest U.S. food retailers on their policies and practices regarding pollinator protection, organic offerings and pesticide reduction has found that 17 don’t have a publicly available policy to reduce or eliminate pesticide use to protect pollinators such as bees. Only Aldi, Costco and Whole Foods Market received passing grades.

“U.S. food retailers must take responsibility for how the products they sell are contributing to the bee crisis,” noted Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner with Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Friends of the Earth. “The majority of the food sold at top U.S. food retailers is produced with pollinator-toxic pesticides. We urge all major retailers to work with their suppliers to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and to expand domestic organic offerings that protect pollinators, people and the planet.”

The report, “Swarming the Aisles: Rating top retailers on bee-friendly and organic food,comes amid growing consumer demand for food retailers to implement more eco-friendly sourcing policies. A coalition led by Friends of the Earth and more than 50 farmer, beekeeper, farmworker, environmental and public interest organizations wrote a letter asking food retailers to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and increase USDA certified-organic food and beverages to 15 percent of their overall offerings by 2025, making domestic, regional and local producers a priority.

A YouGov poll released by Friends of the Earth and global consumer watchdog group SumOfUs of 1,119 adults, undertaken in late April, found that 65 percent of respondents would be more likely to shop at a grocery store that has formally committed to eliminating neonicotinoids, a widely used class of insecticides chemically related to nicotine. The poll also showed that 59 percent of respondents believe it’s important for grocery stores to sell organic food, and 43 percent would be more likely to shop at a grocery store that sells more organic food than their current grocery store.

Angus Wong, lead campaign strategist at SumOfUs, which has 10 million members, affirmed that “the findings of this poll show that a vast majority of consumers want to eliminate neonicotinoids from their grocery stores. … This is why food retailers must commit policies that protect our bees immediately.”

Organic Support Needed

According to the report, although consumer demand for organic and pesticide-free food continues grow by double digits, only four of the top 20 food retailers, Albertsons, Costco, Target and Whole Foods, have unveiled a publicly available company commitments to boost offerings of certified-organic food or to disclose data on their current respective percentages of organic offerings or organic sales. As well as those retailers, Aldi, Food Lion and Kroger have revealed data on their current respective percentages of organic offerings or organic sales. None of the retailers studied  have made a publicly available commitment to source organic from American farmers.

“To protect pollinators, we must eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides from our farming systems and expand pollinator-friendly organic agriculture,” said Dr. Kendra Klein, Friends of the Earth staff scientist. “Organic farms support 50 percent more pollinator species than conventional farms. This is a huge opportunity for American farmers. Less than 1 percent of total U.S. farmland is in organic production — farmers need the support of food retailers to help them transition dramatically more acreage to organic.”

Primary sources of information for the report were publicly available information, including company websites, company annual reports, SEC filings, corporate social responsibility and sustainability reports, press coverage, and industry analyses. Sixteen of the top 20 food retailers were mostly unresponsive to Friends of the Earth’s requests for information via surveys, calls and letters.

According to Friends of the Earth, without bees and other pollinators, grocers would run short of such essential items as strawberries, almonds, apples and broccoli.

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