(Beyond Pesticides, January 20, 2016)
Aldi Süd, the German supermarket chain with stores in the U.S., has become the first major European retailer to ban pesticides toxic to bees, including the neonicotinoids imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, from fruits and vegetables produced for their stores. Aldi has requested suppliers comply at the earliest possible time. In light of the growing pollinator crisis and due to public pressure, retailers in Europe and the U.S. are slowly beginning to make the switch away from bee-toxic pesticides.
Beginning January 1, suppliers of fruits and vegetables to Aldi suppliers will have to ensure that their cultivation practices do not include the following eight pesticides identified as toxic to bees (thiamethoxam, chlorpyrifos, clothianidin, cypermethrin, deltamethrin, fipronil, imidacloprid and sulfoxaflor) to meet the new requirement. According to a press release from Greenpeace, the chemicals are used on various commodities in Europe —thiamethoxam (used in lettuce and endive), chlorpyrifos,clothianidin (used in kohlrabi, herbs, Brussels sprouts, head cabbage, cauliflower and kale), cypermethrin (leek, head cabbage and leguminous vegetables), deltamethrin (cauliflower, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, cucumber, pea, head cabbage, tomato and lettuce), imidacloprid (applied to apples, peaches, apricots and lettuce). Sulfoxaflor was recently granted regulatory approval in Europe, despite calls and legal action to prohibit its registration. Aldi joins other European retailers to take a stand against bee-toxic pesticides. The UK’s largest garden retailers, including Homebase, B&Q and Wickes, have already voluntarily stopped selling neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides highly toxic to bees.
The science has become increasingly clear that pesticides, either working individually or synergistically, play a critical role in the ongoing decline of honey bees and other pollinators. Bees in the U.S. and Europe have seen unprecedented losses over the last decade. Bee-toxic pesticides like neonicotinoids have consistently been implicated as a major contributing factor in pollinator declines. They can cause changes in bee reproduction, navigation, and foraging, and even the suppression of bee immune systems. Just this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its preliminary pollinator assessment for the neonic imidacloprid which finds various residues of the chemical in crops where the pollinators forage, and confirms bees’ widespread and sustained exposure to the highly toxic and persistent chemical through poisoned pollen and nectar. However, calls to suspend the use of these pesticides have been ignored.
Retailers Making the Shift
In light of regulatory shortcomings in the U.S., efforts are underway to shift the market away from bee-toxic pesticides like neonicotinoids. Late last year, hardware giant Home Depot announced that it will no longer use neonics in 80 percent of its flowering plants, and that it will complete its phase-out in plants by 2018. Similarly, Lowe’s announced a phase out the sale of products containing neonicotinoid pesticides within 48 months. Home Depot previously decided to start requiring all nursery plants that have been treated with neonicotinoids to carry a label to inform customers, following a report written last year. The report, Gardeners Beware 2014, shows that 36 out of 71 (51 percent) of garden plant samples purchased at top garden retailers in 18 cities in the United States and Canada contain neonicotinoid pesticides. Some of the flowers contained neonic levels high enough to kill bees outright and concentrations in the flowers’ pollen and nectar were assumed to be comparable. Further, 40% of the positive samples contained two or more neonics.
Smaller retailers have also taken notice and are working on removing neonics and other toxic pesticides from their shelves. Eldredge Lumber and Hardware in York, Maine has transitioned its shelves from harmful synthetic pesticides and fertilizers in favor of organic materials. Eldredge is encouraging consumers to employ alternatives by consciously stocking their shelves with organic compatible products. Efforts by local businesses to stock alternatives and educate consumers on their use is a wonderful example of creating change through grassroots efforts and a bottom-up approach.
See Beyond Pesticides’ video Making the Switch, which highlights Eldredge Lumber and Hardware’s efforts to orient its customers towards safer management practices.
Thus far, EPA has amended neonicotinoid product labels to make clearer the hazards posed to bees, placed a moratorium on new neonicotinoid products, and proposed to place a temporary prohibition on the foliar application of pesticides acutely toxic to bees. The plight of bees was recognized by the Obama Administration, which has since directed federal agencies to find solutions to reverse and restore healthy pollinator populations. The federal report, released May 2015, outlines several measures including public education and habitat creation, but inadequate attention to bee-toxic pesticides that pollute habitat and ecosystems. States are also encouraged to develop pollinator plans to help mitigate risks to bees, but many including beekeepers believe these do not go far enough.
For more on what you can do to help pollinators visit out Bee Protective program page. To assist local garden centers and hardware stores in transitioning their customers to organic practices, Beyond Pesticides has crafted the “Well-Stocked Hardware Store,” which provides the products and tools necessary to support a move to healthy, organic landscapes. This guide fits in with Beyond Pesticides’ Model Pesticide Policy and Implementation Plan for Communities, but can be used independently for hardware stores and garden supply centers looking to encourage the use of products and practices that protect the health of their customers, community, and the wider environment.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.