Giant Eagle is the only one of the 25 retailers that has implemented a measurable pesticide-reduction goal. As part of its pollinator-health policy—which it first established in 2020—the Pennsylvania-based grocery chain is requiring produce growers to cease all use of nitroguanidine neonicotinoids by 2025 and is prohibiting their replacement with other pollinator-toxic chemicals.
Giant Eagle is further mandating that by 2025 all its produce suppliers employ integrated pest management (IPM), an environmentally sensitive pest management approach that uses chemical interventions only as a last resort. A supplier’s implementation of IPM must be verified by an approved third-party certification or by submitting an IPM plan to Giant Eagle to be reviewed by an external entity to ensure it meets a set of stringent criteria.
A key part of Giant Eagle’s policy is its recognition of organic agriculture as beneficial for pollinators. As the retailer shares on its website, “Giant Eagle recognizes the positive impact that the expansion of the organic food industry has on limiting and eliminating the use of all man-made pesticides. The company is committed to offering our customers certified organic products at affordable prices in relevant product categories throughout our store and online and continues to make the growth in the number and variety of organic items in our family of Giant Eagle brands a priority.”
Walmart, which achieved the second-highest score in the 2022 FOE ranking, has a pollinator-health policy requiring all its fresh produce and floral suppliers to have IPM plans by 2025 (as verified by an approved list of third-party certifications).
Walmart's policy also “encourages produce suppliers to phase out pollinator-toxic pesticides—nitroguanidine neonicotinoids and chlorpyrifos—and to avoid replacing them with a list of other concerning chemicals, and to annually report pesticide application and biodiversity management,” says Kendra Klein, deputy director of science at FOE and author of the 2022 Bee-Friendly Retailer Scorecard report. “In addition, the policy sets goals around creating and restoring pollinator habitat.”
FOE evaluated the retailers in four areas related to pesticide use in their supply chains:
- Pollinator-Health Policy—the presence (or absence) of a pollinator-health policy and the strength of that policy.
- Implementation—actions that support pollinator health through pesticide reduction, including offering organic produce and other organic items.
- Transparency & Accountability—public availability of pesticide-reduction efforts, inclusion of pesticide-reduction efforts in KPIs, and consumer education related to pollinator health.
- Collaboration—willingness to communicate with FOE.
“We looked at whether these companies are setting goals to reduce use of key toxic pesticides, what they are doing to increase organic offerings, and whether they are taking steps to support non-organic farmers to shift to least-toxic approaches,” says Klein. “We also looked at whether they are educating consumers about these issues and if they are using their power to advocate for public policies that shift government support from pesticide-intensive agriculture to organic and ecological farming systems.”
Friends of the Earth began its retailer-pollinator efforts in 2017 in order to “spur a race to the top” among major US grocery outlets in the realm of pollinator health.
“Forty percent of insect pollinators, like bees and butterflies, face extinction, and US beekeepers continue to experience record losses of honeybee colonies,” says Klein. “A growing body of research shows that agricultural pesticide use is a key threat to pollinator populations. … Without pollinators, grocery shelves would run short of a wide assortment of fruits and vegetables, nuts, beans, and delicious favorites like chocolate and coffee. The choices these powerful companies make could determine whether bees and butterflies, as well as many other beneficial insects, will exist in the future.”
When FOE first started its retailer-pollinator work, Whole Foods was the only company of the 25 that had a policy mentioning pollinator health. However, today, 12 of the retailers have pollinator-health policies, thanks in large part to FOE’s scorecards and advocacy efforts. (Two of these retailers—Southeastern Grocers and CVS—debuted pollinator-health policies this year.)
One of the main ways FOE suggests retailers help protect pollinators is by increasing their organic offerings. Specifically, FOE is asking retailers to expand organic items to 15 percent of total sales by 2025. So far, two companies have achieved this—Whole Foods (30 percent) and Trader Joe’s (20 percent).
“Research shows that organic farming can help reverse pollinator declines,” says Klein. “Organic farms support up to 50 percent more pollinating species than pesticide-intensive farms and help other beneficial insects flourish.”
“In the hypercompetitive food retail market, strong policies to expand organic offerings and phase out toxic pesticides are critical ways for retailers to distinguish themselves from the pack,” Klein says. “According to recent polling by YouGov commissioned by Friends of the Earth, 83 percent of Americans believe it is important to eliminate pesticides that are harmful to pollinators from agriculture, and 74 percent believe grocery stores should support efforts to protect pollinators, such as bees and butterflies. Eighty-one percent want their food to be free of pesticide residues, and 67 percent feel it is important that the grocery store they shop at sells organic food.”
Friends of the Earth’s 2022 Bee-Friendly Retailer Scorecard is available here: https://foe.org/retailer-report-card.