Retailers disappoint in curbing pesticides, expanding organic: report Purestock/Thinkstock

Retailers disappoint in curbing pesticides, expanding organic: report

Only Whole Foods scores an “A” on pesticide report card; parent Amazon scores an “F”

Twenty out of 25 leading food retailers fail to protect bees – and humans – from toxic pesticides, according to a recently released report. The findings show that while supermarkets have made some general commitments to sustainability and social responsibility, most have failed to take steps to reduce pesticide use in their supply chains.

The study, “Swarming the Aisles II: Rating top retailers on pesticide reduction and organic food to protect pollinators,” is based on the research of Friends of the Earth U.S., the U.S. arm of an international network of environmental organizations in 75 countries.

Whole Foods was the only retailer to receive an “A” in the report, for its commitment to reduce pesticide use, stock organics and implement a transparent policy; its parent company Amazon received an “F” in the same three categories. 

“Food retailers need to phase out toxic pesticides and expand organic to distinguish themselves from the pack,” said Lisa Archer, director of the Friends of the Earth Food and Agriculture team. “Only a few companies are taking responsibility for their role in the bee crisis. We urge major U.S. food retailers to work with their suppliers to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and expand domestic organic offerings.” 

According to Friends of the Earth, 40% of invertebrate pollinator species are on the brink of extinction, and a leading factor of their decline is rampant pesticide use in conventional agriculture. Organic agriculture reduces pesticide use and supports 50% more pollinator species than chemical-intensive industrial agriculture.

Key findings

The Friends of the Earth analysis shows that most of the top U.S. food retailers have a long way to go to reduce pesticides and to protect pollinators. The vast majority have not adopted policies to eliminate or reduce pollinator-toxic pesticides in their company supply chains for conventional food and beverages. And while leading retailers are offering more organic food, the report notes, few are prioritizing U.S. organic farmers or helping more U.S. growers transition to organic production. What’s more, according to the report, there is a lack of transparency around organic purchasing: More than half of the retailers surveyed do not publicly disclose company offerings or sales of organic food, and few have stated goals around increasing organic offerings.

In other findings from the study:

• The food retail sector is failing to protect pollinators from pesticides. Twenty-four of 25 leading food retailers do not have a publicly available policy to reduce or eliminate pesticide use in their food supply chains. Only Whole Foods has adopted a food-related pesticide policy. Twenty of 25 retailers received an “F” in this category.

 • The food retail sector needs to set clear goals to meet skyrocketing consumer demand for organic food and beverages. Nineteen of 25 leading food retailers do not have a publicly available company metric or goal regarding commitment to increase overall certified organic offerings. Only Albertsons, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Costco, Target, Walgreens and Whole Foods have a publicly available metric or goal.

• Food retailers need to take action to expand organic agriculture in the U.S. Only four of 25 leading food retailers (Whole Foods, Target, Wegmans and Costco) have publicly stated that they are taking measures to expand U.S. production of organic food or support U.S. organic farmers.

• Consumers need greater transparency about organic offerings. Fifteen of 25 leading food retailers do not publicly disclose data on organic sales or their current percentage of organic offerings. Only Albertsons, Ahold Delhaize, Aldi, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Costco, Kroger, Target, Trader Joe’s, Wegmans and Whole Foods disclose organic data.

• Whole Foods will continue organic leadership despite the Amazon acquisition. Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods shows that organic is the future of food retail,
but, the study says, “the company has a great deal to learn from itsnew subsidiary — Amazon received an “F” in all three categories of our scorecard.” A Whole Foods representative disclosed to Friends of the Earth, “We continue our existing [pollinator and pesticides] programs and policies that were in place when we last completed the FOE survey (in 2016). Still marching forward on pesticide and other sustainability issues.”

A copy of the full report is available at

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