Some grocery chains are moving to help protect pollinators by requiring their suppliers to stop using nitroguanidine neonicotinoids, or neonics.

Chains including Whole Foods and Kroger have recently outlined policies that will ban the use of neonics in crop production. Whole Foods’ policy also applies to its floral department.

According to the Whole Foods policy, announced in 2023, fresh produce and floral supplies will be required to use integrated pest management (IPM) to reduce chemical pesticide use starting in 2025. The company said it is also encouraging suppliers to phase out neonics, and neonics will be banned by suppliers of potted plants in the store.

Kroger’s policy, announced in 2024, will also require suppliers to use an IPM system with tiered deadlines based on farm size. Growers with mid- to large-sized farms will need to meet a 2028 deadline, while small farms have until 2030 to make the change.

“We depend on a healthy and resilient agriculture supply chain to keep bringing fresh, affordable food to more of America,” Lisa Zwack, head of sustainability for Kroger, said in a press release. “This new goal reflects Kroger’s evolving approach to sustainability and resource conservation, including setting clear expectations with growers to support the transition to more sustainable fresh food production.”

Nitroguanidine neonicotinoids include chemicals such as clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, and neonics are the most popular insecticide used in the U.S., according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). While neonics may be used to target certain insects that can destroy crops, they can become present on plants, including in their pollen and nectar. From there, pollinators like bees and butterflies are exposed to the neonics.

They work by attacking the nervous system in insects, leading to paralysis and death in higher doses. At smaller doses, NRDC reported that these pesticides can still weaken the immune system, memory, stamina and reproduction of insects and keep pollinators from pollinating crops.

“Every single piece of fruit we grow requires pollination,” said Mark Zirkle, president of Rainier Fruit, which supplies food to Whole Foods, as reported by GreenBiz. “We wouldn’t have a crop without honeybees, so pollinator health is of utmost importance to us as farmers.”

Because neonics remain in the soil for a long time after application, they can affect other wildlife and can run off, leading to widespread contamination.

Both Whole Foods and Kroger have outlined several certifications that growers can earn to comply with the new policies. Some of these certifications include Biodynamic, Fair Trade International, Fair Trade USA, Rainforest Alliance, Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) and USDA Organic (or international equivalents). Whole Foods specifically recommends Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) and Bee Better certifications for their “strong IPM and neonicotinoid restrictions.”

As Friends of the Earth reported, thirteen grocery chains and food retailers in the U.S. have developed pollinator policies since 2018. Walmart has a policy requiring third-party verification of IPM practices for suppliers to take effect in 2025, Giant Eagle will ban the use of neonics by its fresh produce suppliers starting 2025, and the Albertsons policy recommends, but doesn’t require, suppliers to limit or phase-out pesticides, including neonics.

“We now understand that biodiversity collapse is as pressing a threat to planetary health and our food supply as climate change. And the over 1 billion pounds of pesticides used annually in U.S. agriculture are drivers of both,” said Kendra Klein, deputy director of science at Friends of the Earth. “It’s past time for U.S. food retailers to take swift action to eliminate the use of toxic pesticides in their supply chains and speed the transition to organic and other ecologically regenerative approaches to agriculture. Despite this promising industry trend, efforts fall far short of what is needed to protect pollinators, people, and the planet from toxic pesticides.”

The original article can be found here