Jeff Bezos and Amazon Can Help Save the Bees - So What Are They Waiting For?

By now, most people know that populations of bees, butterflies and other pollinators are declining everywhere, at rates so precipitous that the stability of the global food supply is considered to be under threat.


Flying insects, birds and bats are absolutely essential to modern agriculture. More than a third of the world's crops, representing over half-a-trillion dollars annually, depend on their activity. But these important players in our food system are rapidly disappearing. Wild bees and domesticated honey bees, in particular, are suffering some of the biggest losses. A staggering 30 percent or more of our honeybee colonies have been lost every year for the past five years, forcing beekeepers to rebuild their hives each season.

The threats to pollinators are many, and scientists are still studying them. But increasingly, signs point to a specific class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, or neonics for short. Study after study has shown that these chemicals lead to a host of problems for pollinators. In large doses, neonics can kill bees directly. But even lower doses can hinder their navigational and foraging skills, and make them more susceptible to parasites and diseases. Neonics can also dramatically affect bees' ability to reproduce—lowering their birth rates, killing off queens, and otherwise imperiling the health of entire colonies.

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A bee collecting nectar from a yellow flower. Studies point to neonicotinoid pesticides as serious threats to bees. (image: Ivan Azimov 007/Shutterstock)

While scientists the world over continue to try and solve the mystery, it makes sense to do what we can to ease the burden on pollinators by curtailing our use of neonic-based pesticides—now. Major garden retailers like Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart and True Value have already committed to get on board. These companies and others have announced that they will stop selling neonic products, neonic-treated plants, or both.

As of now, more than 100 garden retailers have agreed to take similar steps to help pollinators. But that still leaves the largest online retailer in the U.S., and one of the best known brands in the world: Amazon.

It's been almost exactly one year since the Natural Resources Defense Council joined a broad coalition of environmental, public health, business and farming groups by sending a joint letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. In it, we asked him to stop selling neonic products on his website and implored him to use his company's unique status in the American marketplace to "educat[e] consumers on the availability of safer, 'pollinator-friendly' alternatives."

Since then, even as other retailers have overcome their initial hesitations and announced their commitments to helping pollinators, Amazon has yet to provide any substantive response, opting instead to remain largely silent on the matter. Although you can find this smart-looking "Ban Neonicotinoids" T-shirt for sale on the site, which Amazon's copywriters assure us makes a great gift “for anyone concerned about the impact of neonicotinoid pesticides on bees and the wider ecosystem."

Now, as the first anniversary of that letter draws nigh, we're trying again—except this time we're enlisting American consumers to help us get Amazon's attention. That's the idea behind a recent online action addressed directly to Jeff Bezos and designed to get him and his company to act. Since February 8, when it went live, more than 75,000 people have added their names and personalized messages to the petition, which politely but pointedly acknowledges the massive influence that a retail titan like Amazon can legitimately claim in our nation's commercial culture, should it choose to exercise that influence.

Ultimately, we think Amazon will make the right choice. For one thing, the science is sound: Neonics are seriously harming bees and other pollinators, whose collective role in our agriculture and in the larger global ecosystem can’t be overstated. And for another thing, consumers are getting more concerned about this problem over time, not less.

This second fact may help explain why so many of Amazon's competitors in the garden retailing sector overcame their original hesitation and eventually joined our cause. As people become more educated about the plight of pollinators, they naturally want to do something about it—and one thing everyone can do is make it known to national brands that they’re expected to be good corporate citizens. They're definitely expected not to make a bad problem worse.

The time has come for Amazon to join these other brands by sincerely, publicly and energetically committing itself to taking neonics off its virtual shelves. Their cooperation in the fight to save pollinators—and our food supply—would be of enormous, and quite possibly game-changing, consequence. If you agree, you should really let them know.

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