Good news for bees from Aldi
From January 1st the German budget supermarket chain Aldi requires its fruit and vegetable growers to no longer use eight pesticides containing neonicotinoids as they are known to be dangerous to bees. OK, there are a few caveats: only in Aldi supermarkets in the south and west of Germany and in all branches in Switzerland can you be sure fruit and veg from German or Swiss growers have been produced without neonics. And potatoes remain exempt. But from aubergines to zucchinis that still leaves a lot of produce that will be grown without danger to bees.
‘This is just a beginning’, says Christina Huxdorff from Greenpeace Germany, ‘right now we are working out the details with Aldi and we hope that branches in other European countries will come on board too’.
Why haven’t all Aldi suppliers stopped using neonics? The Aldi set-up is a bit complicated: Aldi-South manages supermarkets in south and west Germany and has branched out into several other countries, including Britain and the US. Aldi-North (a separate legal entity) is responsible for supermarkets in north and east Germany and branches from Poland to Portugal. Greenpeace Germany is hoping to get both Aldis to expand the no-neonicotinoid policy across all outlets and suppliers, including their branches in Eastern Europe, which have a growing market share. But right now the question is how the Aldi neonic ban is going to be implemented.
To demand that growers don’t use pesticides containing neonics is one thing. ‘For farmers to comply they will have to change how they work and there probably will be some extra costs involved’, says Christina Huxdorff. Greenpeace hopes to make sure that Aldi foots at least part of the bill, and with Aldi requesting that Greenpeace stays involved there is hope: So far Aldi’s history of dealing with its producers and growers had scope for improvement – to put it very politely.
Aldi has a large market share in Germany and their ban on pesticides containing neonics is an excellent opportunity for Greenpeace to push other supermarket chains to follow suit and possibly expand the ban to imported fresh produce. And of course potatoes should be included too. (Potatoes are classified as a root crop rather than a vegetable and have been exempt from pesticide use restrictions.)
So what about Aldi here in the UK? I phoned Greenpeace UK, yes, they are aware of their German colleagues’ anti-neonicotinoid campaign, and no, Greenpeace UK is not working with Aldi in the same way.
Good and bad news from the US
Bad news first: Honeybee numbers have been falling in the US for years, but now a study by the University of Vermont has found that the wild bee population is dwindling too. They say 39% of US cropland faces ‘a threatening mismatch between rising demand for pollination and a falling supply of wild bees’. The scientists say the decline is not only due to pesticide use, climate change and disease, in addition wild bee habitats are being turned into cropland because of increased demand for corn (maize) for the production of biofuel.
And for farmers who thought technology might solve the problem, the answer is: no, it won’t. A study by the University of California found that when pollen was mechanically blown onto flowering almond trees while bees were excluded, only 1.3% of the blossoms developed into nuts. Bees visit each blossom numerous times, a mechanical pollinator simply cannot compete.
Which brings us to the good news, sort of: last month the US Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, officially concluded that pesticides containing neonicotinoids pose a threat to honeybees. But while pesticides need to be approved by the EPA and their use can be restricted, seeds coated with pesticides* are exempt. Which is why the Center for Food Safety and several other organisations are suing the EPA to get neonicotinoid coated seeds reclassified as pesticides - which would then put the EPA in charge of regulating them. Environmental protection via court order may be an arduous process but if it works – great! In any case: I take good news, even if it comes via Aldi.
*Many seeds are coated with agrochemicals to give the young plants a headstart (protection from pests combined with a dose of fertiliser). The coating also makes them smooth and easier to drill.