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Daily News Blog

17
Sep

Retailers Fail to Protect Pollinators…Badly

(Beyond Pesticides, September 17, 2021) Against the backdrop of what The New York Times in 2018 called the “insect apocalypse,” and the dire plight of pollinators in particular, Friends of the Earth (FOE) recently issued its retailer scorecard, which benchmarks “25 of the largest U.S. grocery stores on pesticides, organic offerings and pollinator health”— with the vast majority of retailers failing to protect pollinators. FOE reporting shows some, but far too slow and anemic, progress by corporate actors in enacting pollinator- and bee-friendly policies across both retail sites and supply chains. Such policies, to be genuinely effective and protective of pollinators (and human health), would eliminate or at least dramatically reduce the presence of pesticides in the food supply. The path out of the chemical pesticide quagmire is organic: companies must do more to move suppliers to organic, regenerative production practices, and EPA should be pulling these toxic compounds from the market.

Tracking the pollinator policies and enforcement activities of various huge companies yields a useful barometer in monitoring the travel of pesticides to the consumer. Yet the results in the FOE scorecard — e.g., only two of those 25 retailers scored even in the “B” range, and 21 scored “D” or “F” — do underline powerfully the folly of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) allowance of these compounds, whose uses damage the very organisms (and ecosystems) on which one-third of the domestic food supply depends.

FOE evaluated these 25 retailers, including entities that are not grocers, per se, but do sell food, such as 7-Eleven, CVS, Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Rite Aid, and Walgreens. These categories of “pollinator protection performance” were considered and assigned points: presence of a pollinator health policy for groceries (maximum of 45 points); implementation of the policy in supply chains (max 90); transparency and accountability (max 21); collaboration (max 10); and complementary home and garden policies for live goods, such as plants, and pesticide products for outdoor use (max 9). The highest possible number of total points was 175.

A few highlights of the rubric include: for the pollinator health policy category, a commitment to reducing pesticide use, avoiding “regrettable” substitutes, and expanding USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) Certified Organic offerings; and for implementation, evidence of phasing out or reducing pesticides in products sold, and bonus points for using domestic organic producers. (See details of the FOE rubric here.)

The overall scores generated by FOE’s analysis are grim; apart from the overall scores and grades of Giant Eagle (score 102, grade B), Whole Foods Market (score 88, grade B-), Walmart (score 82, grade C+), and Costco (score 70, grade C), all the other retailers came in below the 48-point mark, yielding grades of D+ and below. Eleven received “Fs” and three scored zero total points (7-Eleven, Meijer, and Wakefern Food). Those 11 received zeros in multiple of the evaluated categories. Many well-known companies also scored extremely poorly (below 20 points overall): Wegman’s (overall score of 17), Amazon.com (15), Walgreen’s (15), BJ’s Wholesale Club (14), H-E-B (14), Southeastern Grocers (5), Dollar General (5), and Hy-Vee (5).

These ratings can leave a pretty bitter taste in a consumer’s mouth, particularly if one’s local grocery has rated poorly. As FOE points out, it can be tricky to know which of these entities may own a local grocery store; some of those evaluated, such as Target, Costco, Aldi, Wegman’s, and CVS, hold only their single, branded retail facilities. But many others have multiple subsidiary holdings; indeed, Kroger has 22 subsidiary grocery retail outlets, and Albertson’s holds 12. Helpfully, FOE has provided a guide to the subsidiary holdings of these 25 companies. It also provides perspective on the size of these entities in what is an increasingly consolidated food system landscape.

FOE hopes that its scorecard will help “spur a race to the top” — essentially, publicly pressure retailers to create pollinator-protective policies for their operations. Since 2018, the FOE reports notes, 10 retailers have created such policies, but only Giant Eagle and Walmart have committed to time frames. Giant Eagle (which operates primarily in Pennsylvania, with some locations in Maryland) will eliminate nitroguanidine neonicotinoid pesticides from its produce supply chain by 2025. (Nitroguanidines include imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam, dinotefuran, and acetamiprid — all of which are highly toxic to bees.)

Both retailers will require that their produce suppliers adopt IPM (Integrated Pest Management) protocols that will be verified by independent certifiers, by 2025. Beyond Pesticides is not a fan of IPM in agriculture because there is no standardized and enforceable definition or particular federal authorization that oversees the IPM moniker and practices, and as the multitude of definitions show, nearly any chemical might be used in an IPM protocol. (See the USDA and EPA web pages on IPM.) In the context of controls in buildings, Beyond Pesticides supports only well-defined IPM, which outlines allowed practices and substances.

Other companies — Albertsons, Aldi, Costco, Dollar Tree, Kroger, Meijer, Rite Aid, and Target — have established policies “encouraging” suppliers to reduce their use of “pesticides of concern” (such as these, according to FOE, but it is unclear how the companies define the term), and to move to less-toxic production practices. However, these policies include neither metrics nor implementation targets.

In its review, FOE considered whether the companies were doing anything to increase their organic offerings, and whether they are active in encouraging and/or incentivizing conventional producers to transition to less-toxic approaches, such as organic, regenerative farming (or IPM). Last, FOE assessed whether the companies are educating consumers about pesticide-and-pollinator issues, and advocating for public policies “that shift government support from pesticide-intensive agriculture to organic and ecological farming systems.”

FOE says, “The majority of the company policies state a commitment to expand organic offerings, which are grown without the use of over 900 pesticides otherwise allowed in agriculture.” FOE calls these “important first steps,” but adds that “the extinction crisis demands that all food retailers make time-bound commitments to phase out toxic pesticides and support a transition to organic and regenerative agriculture, which is better for pollinators, people and the planet.”

The key findings of the FOE report are:
• There is growing momentum around addressing pesticide use in the U.S. food retail sector, but stronger leadership is needed to protect pollinators.

  • The majority of American consumers believe grocery stores should help protect pollinators.
  • Walmart and Giant Eagle have the leading pollinator health policies.
  • Walmart, Meijer, Dollar Tree and Target established new pollinator health policies this year, making 10 major grocery retailers taking steps to address toxic pesticides in their food supply chains.
  • Major grocery retailers are failing to set measurable goals to reduce toxic pesticide use in their food supply chains.
  • Major grocery retailers don’t know which pesticides are being used in their supply chains or how much is being used. 
  • Major grocery retailers must step up to support conventional growers to shift to the least-toxic approaches.
  • Companies must disclose organic sales data and include organic sales in formal sustainability goals.
  • Companies must report organic and “natural” sales separately.
  • Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are leading major grocery retailers on organic as a percent of overall grocery sales.
  • Independent grocery stores far surpass the largest U.S. food retailers on organic as a percent of overall sales. 
  • Companies must support the expansion of organic agriculture in the U.S.
  • Dollar Tree committed to eliminate use of nitroguanidine neonicotinoids and glyphosate in flowers by 2024, and Giant Eagle removed all neonicotinoid and glyphosate products from store shelves, making 11 companies with pesticide commitments in their home and garden supply chains.
  • It is time for grocery retailers to implement policies that reflect the interrelated biodiversity and climate crises.

Pressure from advocacy organizations, such as FOE, Beyond Pesticides, the Center for Biological Diversity, and The Xerces Society, and from the public, has moved the needle for some retailers on the presence of pesticides in their products and supply chains. FOE has attended to grocery purveyors (of all sorts), and did look at the “home garden” or live plant sales activity at those companies reviewed in this report. Beyond Pesticides teamed up with FOE in June 2021 to analyze herbicide products at Lowe’s and Home Depot, and to advocate for their removal and replacement with nontoxic alternatives.

As Beyond Pesticides reported, “Friends of the Earth composed a comprehensive list of products sold by Home Depot and Lowe’s by browsing online and local stores. . . . Beyond Pesticides evaluated active ingredients in all products and performed a toxicity analysis using available epidemiological and laboratory and studies.” That analysis found that 24 of 51 herbicide products on Home Depot’s shelves and 23 of 40 herbicide products at Lowe’s contain ingredients considered Highly Hazardous Pesticides, classified by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization as “pesticides linked with a high incidence of severe or irreversible adverse effects on human health or the environment.” 

As FOE noted in its report, Walmart committed in Spring of 2021 to “new pollinator commitments that will further our efforts to help reverse nature loss and ultimately bring us closer to meeting new nature commitments made by Walmart and the Walmart Foundation. We have invited our suppliers, stakeholders and customers to join us on this journey as we continue to take action to help protect our planet.

These new commitments serve as the largest pollinator health effort from a U.S. grocery retailer to-date, aiming to reduce several pollinator threats through promoting integrated pest management (IPM) practices and improving and expanding pollinator habitats.”

In Massachusetts, “encouragement” has come from the state level: in March 2021, the Massachusetts Pesticide Board Subcommittee approved new regulations to restrict the use of neonicotinoid pesticides (“neonics”). After years of advocate work to pass a more-comprehensive bill in the state legislature — An Act to protect Massachusetts pollinators, sponsored by Representative Carolyn Dykema — the legislature in 2020 again failed to approve it. Advocacy focus then shifted to the pesticide board, which endorsed this more limited regulation; it will go into effect in 2022 and will restrict outdoor consumer use of neonics by removal of neonicotinoid pesticide products from retail stores. Only licensed pesticide applicators will be allowed to use such products for care of lawns, turf, trees, shrubs, and gardens.

Human dependence on pollinators for food production is significant. As FOE writes, “Without pollinators, grocery stores would run short of a wide assortment of fruits and vegetables, nuts, beans and delicious treats like chocolate and coffee. And because bees pollinate alfalfa and other crops eaten by cows, even the dairy and meat shelves would look bare.” Learn more about the economic risks of pollinator declines.

Given that dependence on pollinators — never mind their intrinsic value and their roles in biodiverse ecosystems — the continued, widespread use of synthetic pesticides that are lethal or otherwise damaging to pollinators is foolhardy, at best. Add to the pollinator impacts the other human health, ecosystem, biodiversity, and water quality impacts of pesticides, and the conclusion cannot help but be that continued use of these compounds in agriculture is risky in the extreme.

The rapid transition of agricultural (and land management) practices to organic, regenerative approaches is the definitive solution to the pollinator crisis (and multiple other health and environmental crises). Protecting pollinators by hastening that shift ought to be the job of everyone — government, private enterprise, agricultural and turf management operations, and the public. Members of the public can advocate via nonprofit organizations; local, state, and federal elected officials; and state and federal agencies that have authority over pesticide use, such as state departments of agriculture, and federally, EPA, USDA, and BLM (the Bureau of Land Management). As for more-immediate and local actions: people can create organic habitat on their own property and in community spaces, such as parks, community gardens, and grounds of municipal and school buildings. For more such ideas and resources, see this Beyond Pesticides Daily News Blog entry from June 2021, and the many resources at the BEE Protective web pages.

Source: https://foe.org/retailer-report-card/

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

 

 

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