Tag Archives: pollinators

Survey: Major U.S. food retailers flunk out on pesticide test

Of the top U.S. food retailers, 17 have received an “F” for failing to have a publicly available policy to reduce or eliminate pesticide use to protect pollinators.

Aldi, Costco (COST) and Whole Foods (WFM) received passing grades in this category, according to a report and scorecard released this week that looks at policies and practices regarding pollinator protection, organic offerings and pesticide reduction.

“U.S. food retailers must take responsibility for how the products they sell are contributing to the bee crisis,” said Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner with Friends of the Earth environmental group. “The majority of the food sold at top U.S. food retailers is produced with pollinator-toxic pesticides. We urge all major retailers to work with their suppliers to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and to expand domestic organic offerings that protect pollinators, people and the planet.”

The report, “Swarming the Aisles: Rating top retailers on bee-friendly and organic food,” comes amid consumer pressure on food retailers to adopt more environmentally-friendly sourcing policies.

A coalition led by Friends of the Earth and more than 50 farmer, beekeeper, farmworker, environmental and public interest organizations sent a letter urging food retailers to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and increase USDA certified organic food and beverages to 15 percent of overall offerings by 2025, prioritizing domestic, regional and local producers.

This effort follows a campaign that convinced more than 65 garden retailers, including Lowe’s and Home Depot, to commit to eliminate bee-toxic neonicotinoid pesticides.

Bees and other pollinators are essential for one in three bites of food consumed in the United States. Without pollinators, grocery stores would run short of strawberries, almonds, apples, broccoli and more.

A growing body of science points to the world’s most widely-used insecticides, neonicotinoids, as a leading factor in pollinator declines, and glyphosate, the most widely-used herbicide worldwide, as a key culprit in monarch butterfly declines.

New data from a YouGov Poll released today by Friends of the Earth and SumOfUs found that 80 percent of Americans believe it is important to eliminate neonicotinoids from agriculture.

Among Americans who grocery shop for their household, 65 percent would be more likely to shop at a grocery store that has formally committed to eliminating neonicotinoids.

The poll also revealed that 59 percent of American grocery shoppers believe it is important for grocery stores to sell organic food, and 43 percent would be more likely to shop at a grocery store that sells more organic food than their current grocery store.

“Over 750,000 SumOfUs members have spoken out advocating that U.S. Hardware stores take action to protect our pollinators. And after years of pressure, Home Depot and Lowe’s have finally enacted more bee-friendly policies,” said Angus Wong, lead campaign strategist at SumOfUs, a consumer watchdog group. “And the findings of this poll show that a vast majority of consumers want to eliminate neonicotinoids from their grocery stores too. This is why food retailers must commit policies that protect our bees immediately.”

The report found that while consumer demand for organic and pesticide-free food continues to show double-digit growth only four of the top food retailers — Albertsons, Costco, Target (TGT) and Whole Foods — have adopted a publicly available company commitment to increase offerings of certified organic food  or to disclose data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales.

In addition to these retailers, Aldi, Food Lion, part of the Delhaize Group (DEG) and Kroger (KR) disclosed data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales.

None of the retailers have made a publicly available commitment to source organic from American farmers.

“To protect pollinators, we must eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides from our farming systems and expand pollinator-friendly organic agriculture,” said Dr. Kendra Klein, staff scientist at Friends of the Earth. “Organic farms support 50 percent more pollinator species than conventional farms. This is a huge opportunity for American farmers. Less than one percent of total U.S. farmland is in organic production — farmers need the support of food retailers to help them transition dramatically more acreage to organic.”

Sixteen of the top 20 food retailers were predominately unresponsive to requests for information via surveys, calls and letters.

Primary sources of information for this scorecard include publicly available information, including company websites, company annual reports, SEC filings, corporate social responsibility and sustainability reports, press coverage and industry analyses.

On the Web

The reportSwarming the Aisles: Rating top retailers on bee-friendly and organic food, survey results, tips for consumers and letters to retailers can be found at www.foe.org/beeaction.

7 Hawaii bee species listed as endangered, a 1st in U.S.

Federal authorities have added seven yellow-faced bee species — Hawaii’s only native bees — for protection under the Endangered Species Act. This is a first for any bees in the United States.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the listing after years of study by the conservation group Xerces Society, state government officials and independent researchers.

The Xerces Society says its goal is to protect nature’s pollinators and invertebrates, which play a vital role in the health of the overall ecosystem.

The nonprofit organization was involved in the initial petitions to protect the bee species, said Sarina Jepson, director of endangered species and aquatic programs for the Portland, Oregon-based group.

Jepson said yellow-faced bees can be found elsewhere in the world, but these particular species are native only to Hawaii and pollinate plant species indigenous to the islands.

The bees face a variety of threats including “feral pigs, invasive ants, loss of native habitat due to invasive plants, fire, as well as development, especially in some for the coastal areas,” Jepson told The Associated Press.

The bees can be found in a wide variety of habitats in Hawaii, from coastal environments to high-elevation shrub lands, she said. The yellow-faced bees pollinate some of Hawaii’s endangered native plant species. While other bees could potentially pollinate those species, many could become extinct if these bees were to die off entirely.

Hawaii-based entomologist Karl Magnacca worked with Xerces on much of the initial research. It has taken almost 10 years to get to this point, he told the AP. “It’s good to see it to finally come to fruition,” he said.

The bees “tend to favor the more dominant trees and shrubs we have here,” he said. “People tend to focus on the rare plants, and those are important, that’s a big part of the diversity. But the other side is maintaining the common ones as common. (The bees) help maintain the structure of the whole forest.”

Magnacca added that there are a lot more rare insects that deserve protection. “It may not necessarily be appropriate to list them as endangered, but we have this huge diversity that we need to work on and protect here in Hawaii,” he said. “There’s a huge amount of work that needs to be done.”

The bees are critical for maintaining the health of plants and other animals across the islands, said Gregory Koob, conservation and restoration team manager for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Honolulu.

There is no designated critical habitat attached to the listing, he said, but the protection will allow authorities to implement recovery programs, access funding and limit their harm from outside sources. All federal agencies must consult with the Fish and Wildlife service when interacting with endangered species.

“As an animal, it can’t be taken or harmed or killed by individuals,” Koob said. “Any research that is done needs a permit from Fish and Wildlife Service unless it’s done by a state agency.”

Koob said that if the bees were removed from ecosystem, the plants that they pollinate would likely not survive.

“Those plants are not only food and nesting habitat for the bees, but they also provide habitat for other animals,” he said. “It’s the web of life.”

Friday’s listing finalized the protection of 10 animal species in Hawaii, the seven bees along with the band-rumped storm-petrel, the orangeblack Hawaiian damselfly and the anchialine pool shrimp. It also added 39 species of plants native to Hawaii.

The rusty-patched bumble bee, found widely across the continental United States, is also being considered for protection.

On the Web

Documents from FWS.

Insecticide appears to reduce live bee sperm

A new study finds that a commonly used insecticide kills much of the sperm created by male drone honey bees, one reason why the bees are dwindling.

The class of insecticide called neonicotinoids didn’t kill the drones.

But bees that ate treated pollen produced 39 percent less live sperm than those that didn’t, according to a controlled experiment by Swiss researchers published in late July in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

It essentially acted as an accidental contraceptive on the drones, whose main job is to mate with the queen — but not one that prevented complete reproduction, just making it tougher, said Lars Straub, lead author of the study and a doctoral student and researcher at the University of Bern. Drones, which are the product of unfertilized eggs, don’t gather nectar or pollen and don’t sting; they die after mating.

Both the drones that ate insecticide-treated pollen and those not exposed to the chemicals produced about the same amount of sperm. The difference was clear when the researchers put the sperm under the microscope: The bee that didn’t have pesticide in its pollen produced on average 1.98 million living sperm, the one with neonicotinoids in its food about 1.2 million.

“There’s a reduction in sperm viability and the amount of living sperm, but that doesn’t mean there’s no living sperm at hand,” Straub said. The big question is there still enough of sperm that survive to do the job, he said. Queens generally have one mating flight and store sperm.

Study co-author Geoffrey Williams, a senior bee researcher at the University of Bern, said the team doesn’t know how the insecticides might be damaging the sperm, but it seems to be happening after they are produced.

This comes on top of a study published earlier this year in PLOS One that reported the high rate of U.S. honey bee colonies dying coincides with failures of queens. And the queen failure was linked to drones’ dead sperm.

“Queen failure is a big problem and this helps explain it,” said U.S. Department of Agriculture bee scientist Jeff Pettis, who wasn’t part of the neonicotinoid study but was lead author of the PLOS study on queen health. “It’s not the queens themselves, it’s the drones. It’s significant.”

There are many problems — mites, parasites, disease, pesticides and poor nutrition — that seem to combine to shrink the numbers of bees and other pollinators, Straub, Pettis and other scientists said. Pettis said he guesses that poor sperm health may account for about a third of the problem.

Neonicotinoid-maker Bayer Crop Science spokesman Jeffrey Donald said the firm’s scientists will review the study, but in general “artificial exposure to pesticides under lab conditions is not reflective of real-world experience.”

Another team of outside researchers, Jerry Bromenshenk and Colin Henderson at the University of Montana, praised the Straub study as careful and significant. But they said in an email there are still unanswered questions on how much this matters.

EPA assessment finds pesticide a risk to honeybees

The Environmental Protection Agency, in risk assessment released in early January, said a popular pesticide poses a significant risk to honeybees.

The analysis from the EPA indicates that honeybees can be exposed to imidacloprid — a neonicotinoid pesticide used on 140 crops — at concentrations that negatively affect the health of the hive. The assessment said the pesticide can harm honeybees when used on citrus and cotton but not berries, corn and tobacco.

Lisa Archer, food and technology program director at Friends of the Earth, said the EPA’s assessment “reinforces the strong body of independent science demonstrating that neonicotinoids are a leading driver of bee declines. It is imperative that the EPA stop delaying action and immediately suspend imidacloprid and other bee-toxic pesticides.”

She added, “With beekeepers facing continued unsustainable losses, and harm to essential native pollinators mounting, the EPA needs to stop dragging its feet and take decisive action to suspend these bee-toxic pesticides.”

Others in the environmental community said the EPA didn’t take its assessment far enough and failed to examine risks to nearly 4,000 North American native bees and all other pollinators, including imperiled butterflies, bats and birds.

“You can’t claim to do a pollinator risk assessment and really only look at one pollinator, the honeybee,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. “That’s not only cheating on the purpose of this work but also cheating the native bees, birds, butterflies and other species threatened by this pesticide. In fact, many of these other pollinators are even more vulnerable to neonicotinoids than honeybees.”

A study published in the journal Nature that wild bees are more sensitive to the acute toxic effects of neonicotinoids, specifically that neonicotinoid seed coatings reduce wild bee density, solitary bee nesting and bumblebee colony growth. The EPA, in its review, acknowledged bumblebees are negatively affected by the pesticide at lower levels than honeybees, but failed to assess properly the risk, according to the CBD.

Also, environmental activists said the EPA relied on a single industry-provided study to assess risk to honeybee colonies, despite an abundance of published studies by independent scientists.

“The EPA’s decision to rely on industry-funded research is absolutely unacceptable, particularly when there has been so much research by independent researchers,” Burd said.

While the EPA emphasized honeybee colony risks, its risk assessment found effects on individual honeybees, not on colonies, from most crops.

Burd said, “The EPA refused to make a determination on colony-level risks for specific crops when it had anything less than conclusive evidence on the risks. This flawed methodology caused the agency to dramatically understate the risks of imidacloprid. Also, the colony-level risk assessment only takes into account exposure via nectar, not pollen. So the EPA is analyzing effects on pollinators without even taking pollen into account.”

Bees and other pollinators face myriad other threats, including climate change, genetically engineered crops and monoculture, disease, pests and habitat loss. Studies show low levels of exposure to neonicotinoids increases the risk posed by these other threats on weakened honeybees.