Whole Foods Announces New Pollinator Health Policy to Reduce Toxic Pesticides in Supply Chain

Posted on Dec 18 2023 - 9:29pm by Sustainable Pulse

In a win for healthy food shoppers and biodiversity, Whole Foods Market, owned by Amazon, announced Monday a new pollinator health policy aimed at reducing the use of toxic pesticides in its fruit and vegetable supply chain. The policy seeks to help protect bees and other pollinators that are essential to one in three bites of food. As one of the largest U.S. food retailers, Whole Foods’ commitment will help transform growing practices on thousands of acres that supply fresh produce to health-conscious consumers.

Whole Foods has joined a growing trend in the grocery retail industry addressing threats to biodiversity by becoming the thirteenth company on Friends of the Earth’s Bee-Friendly Retailer Scorecard to establish a pollinator policy addressing toxic pesticides in its supply chain.

“Whole Foods’ policy is an important step in a moment when 40% of insect pollinators face extinction,” said Kendra Klein, PhD, senior staff scientist at Friends of the Earth. “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.”

Pollinator loss threatens food security in an already fragile supply chain. U.S. beekeepers reported among the highest annual losses ever recorded last year. Research indicates that pollinator loss has already resulted in decreased production of key crops like apples, cherries and tomatoes in the United States.

Whole Foods’ policy requires fresh produce and floral suppliers to adopt Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices by 2025. Suppliers may work with designated third-party certifications with meaningful IPM criteria or submit a legal attestation confirming that they adhere to the requirements of the policy.

In an industry vulnerable to climate change and biodiversity loss, IPM guides farmers to use ecological methods that support the overall sustainability of their land. IPM can reduce use of pesticides by requiring farmers to use non-chemical approaches to manage pests first, such as rotating crops, planting resistant varieties and fostering beneficial insects.

The policy also encourages produce suppliers to phase out the use of the most concerning neonicotinoid pesticides. Research shows that U.S. agriculture has become 48 times more toxic to bees and other insects since the advent of neonicotinoid use three decades ago. In addition, the policy prohibits the use of nitroguanidine neonicotinoids in potted plants – a move aligning the company with the over 140 garden retailers and plant nurseries that have made similar commitments.

Whole Foods’ policy highlights the importance of organic production in the protection of pollinators, stating that the company has “long championed pollinator health through our commitment to organic production.” Organic agriculture is based on robust IPM practices, and the organic certification prohibits the use of over 900 pesticides, including those of highest concern for the health of pollinators and people, such as neonicotinoids, organophosphates and glyphosate. Research shows that organic farming can help pollinators thrive.

The same pesticides that threaten pollinators also harm human health, including the farmworkers and rural communities on the frontlines of exposure. These widely used chemicals also threaten the soil life that is central to regenerative farming approaches that enhance farmers’ resilience to climate change, conserve water and improve soil’s ability to sequester carbon.

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Sustainable Pulse is a global news outlet covering sustainable agriculture, GMOs and pesticides.

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