Costco has just announced a huge decision to limit all pesticides in its products, specifically discouraging those that contain chemicals that are harmful to bees. The major big box retailer instructed their suppliers to significantly lower their use of pesticides in the products that will be found on their shelves. They placed specific emphasis on minimizing the use of neonicotinoids, which is a specific class of insecticides which are known to be incredibly harmful to bees and other pollinator insects.
This forward-thinking decision comes at a crucial time when bee and pollinator populations are currently going through a serious crisis, as species numbers are rapidly declining. These wildlife declines mean that pollinators, including a North American bee which has just been officially added to the endangered species list, are at critically low levels, which would have serious impacts on food produce that rely on pollinators. The retail chain, which has 705 stores worldwide, is in a prime position to set new restrictions in place which could aid the recovery of bee populations. Recent figures show that Costco has annual sales totaling almost $ 120 billion, meaning it is a great leader for introducing these regulations in a new movement, which will hopefully encourage other chains.
Last year, Costco released a policy titled “Costco Wholesale’s Live Goods Policy To Protect Pollinator Health”, and made the following statement:
“Costco Wholesale understands that the honey bee population is declining and these bees are necessary for the life cycles of people, plants and the food we consume. We have invested in a multi-year research project to improve honey bee health and sustainability and are committed to following the continuing research, developments surrounding bee colony collapse and other areas of environmental concern. We are also committed to business practices that support the growth and sustainability of bees and other pollinators.”
Further to this pledge to support the growth of bee populations, the policy also outlines several significant demands of their suppliers with regards to live plants. These include encouraging suppliers to utilize eco-friendly methods of pest and disease control, only applying chemicals whilst following strict local and federal laws and regulations, and discouraging the use of neonicotinoids on plants where bees are primary pollinators.
This policy also follows on from the announcement by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to “mitigate the acute risks to bees from pesticide products”. Friends of the Earth, an environmental organization, is also supporting Costco’s leading effort by urging more retailers to do the same. They have brought Costco to the forefront of their organization by praising the company for leading the way for others in this initiative. Tiffany Finck-Haynes, a food futures campaigner at Friends of the Earth U.S, said, “Costco’s decision to limit these bee-killing pesticides on garden plants and increase its selection of organic products demonstrates it is listening to its customers and taking into account the most up-to-date sound science. However, we know that Costco and other retailers can do even more to protect bees. We urge Costco and other leading food retailers to phase-out pollinator toxic pesticides in its food supply chain to address the bee crisis.”
Although this move is definitely a step in the right direction, environmental organisations are hoping for a complete ban on the use of harmful neonics, instead of simply reducing their use. Other reports have shown that Health Canada has proposed a ban on nearly all use of the neonicotinoid imidacloprid, showing that the use of these harmful chemicals can be completely stopped, whilst still manufacturing the same produce. Bee populations have been showing an alarmingly rapid decline in the past decade, with rates of dead bees almost tripling in 2014, and up to 40% of US commercial colonies disappearing entirely.
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