Whole Foods Announces Its Pollinator Policy

What can the retail industry do to protect pollinators? Whole Foods Market joins a growing list of retail chains implementing policies that protect the pollinators responsible for one out of every three bites of food from plants in the U.S.

Whole Foods Market recently announced its pollinator policy. By 2025, Whole Foods will require all fresh produce and floral growers to implement an integrated pest management (IPM) system. The IPM must prioritize preventative and biological pest control measures and reduce the need for chemical pesticides.

“Whole Foods’ policy is an important step in a moment when 40% of insect pollinators face extinction,” said Kendra Klein, Ph.D., senior staff scientist at Friends of the Earth (FOE). “After another year of devastating losses to bees, food retailers must accelerate their commitment to protect pollinators by setting measurable goals to eliminate bee-toxic pesticides in their food supply.”

Whole Foods earned a B- in last year’s Bee-Friendly Retailer Report Card by FOE. The environmental group’s report card benchmarks 25 of the largest grocery store chains on their steps to address the use of toxic chemical pesticides in their supply chains and support expanding organic agriculture and other sustainable solutions. Those 25 companies control over $1.78 trillion in annual food and beverage sales. Four companies (Walmart, Amazon, Costco, and Kroger) control over $1.02 trillion.
Is the Pollinator Policy Enough?

The Whole Foods pollinator policy needs to go further. A loophole in the policy allows the grocery store chain to opt out of third-party certification. The policy states that suppliers either work with third-party certifications with IPM criteria or submit a legal attestation confirming they adhere to the policy’s requirements.

The policy prohibits nitroguanidine neonicotinoids in all potted plants sold at Whole Foods. However, it does require fresh produce and floral suppliers to stop using the pesticides. Neonicotinoids are harmful pesticides for pollinators, including honey bees, widely used on farms. According to a FOE study, U.S. agriculture is 48 times more toxic to pollinators since the introduction of neonicotinoids 30 years ago.

The Center for Biological Diversity studied the state of all North American and Hawaiian native bees. Researchers found that among native bee species with enough data to assess, more than half are declining. Nearly one in four species is at risk of extinction. The study cited agricultural intensification, including pesticide use, as a primary driver of the decline of native bee species.

Frozen Foods Don’t Make the List

Given the dangers North American pollinators face, Whole Foods and other retailers should have policies that extend to frozen produce. However, Whole Foods does not include frozen produce or the other 12 retailers with pollinator policies. Frozen food revenue in the U.S. in 2023 was $53.3 billion. The frozen food industry market size increased by 17.3 percent in 2023. From 2018 to 2023, the industry grew six percent per year.

Given the size of the frozen food industry, it is nonsensical that the food retail industry leaves out frozen produce from its policies. Solving the decline of North American pollinators and creating environments where they thrive requires the sector to overhaul its supply chains.

Pollinator policies are a good start, but food retailers can do so much more. As the FOE stated, “Action across the sector falls far short of what is needed to create a healthy, resilient food system for pollinators and other critical biodiversity as well as people, from farmworkers to eaters.”

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheesemanhttp://www.justmeans.com/users/gina-marie-cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman, freelance writer/journalist/copyeditor about.me/gmcheeseman Twitter: @gmcheeseman

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