What is Organic

How Retailers Can Make a Difference in the Fight to Save Pollinators and Our Food

Pollinators responsible for one in three bites of food we eat!
Photo by Vladimir Haltakov on Unsplash

It’s the beginning of fall here in the Northern Hemisphere. My garden is in its final throes of budding with stubborn late-season beans, squash and cucumbers. The pollinators are still hungrily at work, careening about with great pantaloons of golden pollen.

The earth has tilted as it has for a millennium, yet all is not as it once was. Our pollinators, honeybees and butterflies, are in the midst of a great epoch of decline. In fact, it’s the same for all winged insects.

This “insect apocalypse” includes the decimation of bees and butterflies—the very pollinators responsible for one in three bites of food we eat.

Food retailers are just beginning to address the routine use of toxic pesticides in their supply chains that contribute to pollinator decline. Friends of The Earth aims to accelerate their progress.

Pollinators are vital to our food supply.

It turns out that the bees and other pollinators in my garden are engaging in a naïve sort of sexual dance. As they gather food, their bristly legs hold great pollen baskets. While flittering to-and-fro from flower to flower, they unwittingly transfer pollen in and between the petals and stamens.

Bee with swollen pollen sac. Photo by Martin Mertenat on Unsplash

These innocent, somewhat naughty transgressions fertilize plants, producing fruit and vegetables and the seeds I need for next year’s harvest. 

If bees were to disappear from my garden, I would have no tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, eggplant, strawberries, potatoes, broccoli, zucchini, asparagus, cantaloupe, onions, or carrots.

I would have no garden, indeed! The list of foods that would disappear is quite long and includes a myriad of fruits, vegetables, and field crops. 

Bees performing their fertilization dance. Photo by Alex Cook on Unsplash

The sixth mass extinction includes pollinators.

We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction of species on the planet. Thousands of populations of species have been lost in the past century alone. It’s one of the most serious environmental threats we face. It’s irreversible and entirely humanmade.

Insects are part of this ecological Armageddon, with 40% of all insect species threatened by extinction.

The main drivers of their decline appear to be habitat loss and conversion to intensive agriculture and urbanization; pollution, mainly by synthetic pesticides and fertilizers; biological factors, including pathogens and introduced species; and finally, climate change.

It’s clear we need to rethink our current agricultural practices. There must be a serious reduction of pesticide use and the adoption of sustainable, ecologically-based, organic methods to grow our food—or the food will disappear.

Scientists warn of a “catastrophic ecosystem collapse” if we don’t save these small but important creatures!

How can you and I be part of the solution?

Decades of research show that we need a rapid shift to ecological organic agriculture to feed all people sustainability, now and into the future.

Rather than using toxic chemicals, organic farmers build healthy soils and increase biodiversity on their farms. Organic food production includes crop rotations, cover cropping, composting, reducing tillage and planting habitat for beneficial insects.

Committing to growing and eating organic food and products is the first step I can make to protect our endangered pollinators.

Once my garden is fallowed, I will have to search them out at a grocery store, and where I buy my food matters.

Large grocery stores need to step up to address the unnecessary use of toxic pesticides in their supply chains.

Grocery stores have a major role to play in changing our food system. Photo by nrd on Unsplash

Pollinators are a cornerstone of a dependable food supply. They contribute approximately $29 billion to the U.S. economy and up to $577 billion to the global economy annually.

Do you think the COVID shortages are bad?

Well, without pollinators, grocery shelves would be barren of a wide assortment of fruits and vegetables, nuts, and beans. Since alfalfa, which cows graze on, needs pollinators, the milk, yogurt, and butter coolers would echo emptily. Coffee and cocoa plants require pollination. Imagine a life without chocolate and coffee!

The choices powerful retailers make could determine whether bees, fireflies, dragonflies, monarch butterflies, and so many other essential insects will exist for our children.  

Friends of the Earth (FOE) has created a landmark retailer scorecard to benchmark 25 of the largest U.S. grocery stores on pesticides and pollinator health.

They looked at whether retailers are setting goals to reduce the use of key toxic pesticides, what the stores are doing to increase organic offerings, and whether retailers help non-organic farmers shift to less-toxic approaches.

FOE also looked at whether retailers 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.

FOE found some important momentum in the sector, but many companies have a long way to go. While 23 of 25 have policies related to energy and climate, only six have taken steps in the right direction on agricultural pesticides.

Six major grocery retailers have pollinator health policies. Giant Eagle, Albertsons, Aldi U.S., and Rite Aid established new pollinator health policies this year, joining Costco and Kroger. With these announcements, three of the four largest grocery retailers in the U.S.—Costco, Kroger, and Albertsons—have policies.

Giant Eagle has the leading pollinator health policy of any major retailer. Its pollinator health policy states its commitment to work with suppliers to eliminate neonic pesticides in its produce supply chain.

This makes Giant Eagle the first food retailer to set a measurable goal for pesticide reduction.

I want to call out that independent grocery stores far surpass the largest retailers on organic as a percent of overall sales.

Friends of the Earth surveyed independent food retailers across the country and found that 94% exceeded the benchmarks they challenged the top grocery retailers to meet.

It’s time for the largest U.S. grocery stores to create policies that reflect the urgency of the biodiversity crisis. These pollinator solutions will also be climate solutions.

When grocery retailers commit to truly shift their supply chains away from pesticide-intensive agriculture to organic farming systems, they will protect pollinators, reduce their climate impact, and help create vital solutions to climate change.

Grocery stores have a major role to play. Their ability to source abundant organic food depends on this shift, and they have the market power to make massive changes in our food system.

Their choices—our choices—are essential to maintaining a livable planet.

Friends of the Earth, their two million members, and over 100 ally organizations representing beekeepers, farmers, farmworkers, and environmentalists, continue to push top grocery retailers to change their policies and practices.

Our ability to feed ourselves sustainably, now and into the future, depends on it.

I’m a FOE member, and they’ll be sending out an action alert at this link that also has the scorecard.

6 thoughts on “How Retailers Can Make a Difference in the Fight to Save Pollinators and Our Food”

  1. Great article. You mention that we are now in the middle of the sixth extinction. I am currently almost done reading the book The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert. Great read and highly recommended!

  2. Most people would laugh it off if someone said that honeybees are the warriors of the world; but the fact remains that if there is no cross pollination, something honeybees do best, there would be not much crop left for us to eat. Organic farms and stores that sell organic products such as The Organic World (https://theorganicworld.com/)are reducing and negating the use of chemicals on the crops, allowing a second lease of life to these tiny warriors!

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