Whole Foods Introduces Pollinator Policy for Produce, Flower Growers

Bee pollinates a yellow flower

(Credit: Unsplash)

by | Dec 19, 2023

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Whole Foods Market has unveiled a new policy that aims to protect pollinators, including requirements for its growers to reduce the use of chemical pesticides and increase sustainable agriculture practices.

The pollinator policy, which will be enforced by 2025, will require fresh produce and floral growers to implement an integrated pest management (IPM) system that uses preventative and biological pest control, reducing the need for chemical pesticides. The rules also prohibit the use of nitroguanidine neonicotinoids, an insecticide known to be toxic to bees, for all potted plants they sell. The rules also encourage growers to phase-out the use of the insecticide altogether.

“We understand the important role pollinators play in our food system and, through this policy, will build on our long legacy of supporting biodiversity and pollinator health,” said Karen Christensen, senior vice president of perishables and quality standards for Whole Foods. “This is another critical step forward in our journey of climate-smart agriculture as part of our purpose to nourish people and the planet.”

Whole Foods also maintains a program dedicated to providing support for educational beehives and bee programming. The Bee Grant Program helps schools and non-profit organizations teach students about the vital role of pollinators, and since 2014, the program has reportedly awarded over 850 educational beehives.

Importance of Pollinator Populations to Farmers’ Crop Yields, Food Supply

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), pollinators help ensure the world eats — about 75% of flowering plants and 35% of food crops worldwide depend on animal pollinators to produce. Honey bee and other pollinator populations in the U.S. have fallen in recent years, in part because of exposure to pesticides and other chemicals.

Additional organizations have implemented similar programs to the Whole Foods plan that promote pollinator protection. The Pollinator Partnership expanded its bee certification program earlier this year by providing a third-party certification program to encourage farmers to create safe habitats for bees and other pollinators. The program has certified over 450 farms and expects more to join with the addition of the third-party verifier.

Practices such as IPM, ensuring crop diversity, reducing soil erosion, and many others may benefit pollinators, which in turn helps farmers’ bottom line. The USDA estimates that honey bees and native bees support $18 billion to $27 billion in crop yields each year in the U.S.

“Every single piece of fruit we grow requires pollination,” said Mark Zirkle, president of Rainier Fruit, a Whole Foods supplier. “We wouldn’t have a crop without honeybees, so pollinator health is of utmost importance for us as farmers. We’re appreciative of Whole Foods’ advocacy and look forward to continued efforts towards more sustainable agriculture.”

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