If You Want to Help Protect Bees From Deadly Pesticides, Here Are the Grocery Stores to Avoid

Before your next trip to the supermarket, grab your shopping list and Friends of the Earth’s new scorecard to see where your go-to grocery store stands in the fight to protect bees and the environment.

Bees and other pollinators are essential to many of the most nutritious and delicious foods on grocery store shelves. They pollinate one-in-three bites of food, from strawberries and broccoli to almonds. Globally, between $235 billion and $577 billion worth of annual global food production relies on direct contributions by pollinators.

Unfortunately, pollinators are in serious trouble, which means the food in our supermarkets is too. Without pollinators, store shelves would be pretty bare. A full 40 percent of all invertebrate pollinating species are on the brink of extinction. And a growing body of scientific evidence points to neonicotinoids and glyphosate—chemicals used in everyday weed-killers—as key contributors in the bee and monarch butterfly decline.

Neonicotinoids and glyphosate are some of the most widely used agricultural chemicals in the world. Fortunately, we know that there is a solution to the pollinator problem: organic farms. Organic farming supports 50 percent more pollinator species than conventional farms. This method of farming protects and regenerates the water, soil and other resources that we need to produce healthy food for generations to come. It also protects farmers, farm workers, rural communities and consumers from exposure to toxic pesticides.

While we urgently need to change the way we farm and grow our food, less than one percent of total U.S. farmland is in organic production. This percentage has to change to protect pollinators, people and the planet. To better understand where supermarkets stand on protecting bees and our environment, Friends of the Earth conducted an analysis of food retailers’ pollinator policies and practices, including their commitment to organic foods, pollinator protection and pesticide reduction.

In the new report, "Swarming the Aisles," Friends of the Earth scored 20 of the largest food retailers in the U.S. In recent years, due to rapidly growing consumer demand, food retailers have been stocking store shelves with more healthy, organic and sustainable options. However, the majority of top retailers, those ranked by total U.S. sales, have failed to do their part to protect pollinators.

Our report found that 17 out of 20 leading food retailers received an “F” for failing to have a public policy to reduce or eliminate pesticide use. Only Aldi, Costco and Whole Foods received passing grades.

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Aldi announced it would drop products produced with eight major pesticides that are harmful to bees, but the move is focused primarily on its European stores. Costco has a global pollinator protection policy and will publish it by the end of the year. Whole Foods has adopted its “Responsibly Grown” rating system, which seeks to protect pollinators from toxic pesticides and reduce pesticide use in produce. However this policy doesn’t apply to all food items on Whole Foods’ shelves.

While consumer demand for bee-friendly organic food continues to show double-digit growth, we found only four of the top food retailers (Albertsons, Costco, Target and Whole Foods) have adopted a public commitment to increase certified organic food offerings or to disclose data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales.

In addition to these retailers, Aldi, Food Lion (part of the Delhaize Group) and Kroger disclosed data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales, but none of these retailers have made a public commitment to source organic options from American farmers.

Supermarkets have the power to turn all of this around. The food retail industry sold $5.27 trillion worth of food and retail services in 2014, with supermarkets contributing approximately $600 billion. And fortunately, the market has already started to shift in the direction of selling more organic options.

Total U.S. organic sales were $43.3 billion in 2015 and of that, $39.7 billion were organic food sales, up 11 percent from the previous year. But organic still only represents five percent of U.S. grocery sales. Major food retailers have the ability to change this by implementing programs that can support farmers as they make the transition to domestic, bee-friendly, organic, regenerative agriculture.

We know consumers will reward food retailers that make this shift, not only because demand for organic is far outstripping domestic supply, but also because a recent poll shows that 80 percent of Americans believe it is important to eliminate neonicotinoids from agriculture. Among Americans who purchase groceries for their household, 65 percent would be more likely to shop at a supermarket that has formally committed to eliminating neonicotinoids.

Furthermore, 59 percent of American grocery shoppers believe it is important for grocery stores to sell organic food, and 43 percent would be more likely to buy at a grocery store that sells more organic food than their current grocery store.

It’s time for food retailers to meet this consumer demand. Our new report contains key recommendations for food retailers for protecting pollinators, increasing transparency and providing consumers with the products that they want. Friends of the Earth and our allies are demanding that retailers establish a pollinator protection policy to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides, publicly disclose that policy and their current organic offerings, increase organic offerings, prioritizing domestic, regional and local producers, and support government and market initiatives to help farmers transition to organic production.

Before your next trip to the supermarket, check where it stands on protecting pollinators and the planet and urge them to support a healthy, just and regenerative food system. Let your local food retailer know that you want to purchase food grown without pollinator-toxic chemicals and shop at stores that prioritize organic foods and beverages as often as you can. Together, we will create a food system that protects pollinators, the planet and all of us.

Check out the full report.

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