by Sarah Landers

German supermarket chain Aldi, has become the first major European retailer to ban pesticides that are toxic to bees, including neonicotinoids such as imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam. All suppliers of produce sold in Aldi stores across Europe and the U.S. are now required not to use those pesticides during production.

The announcement came on January 1st, and was a great way to start the New Year, with the retailer expecting fruit and vegetable suppliers to comply with their new policy ASAP. The decision comes after a great deal of public pressure, and coincides with the German retailer’s decision to ban the herbicide chemical glyphosate from its produce.

The importance of bees

Bees are one of the most important insects on earth, and are responsible for pollinating a third of everything we eat, playing a very important part in sustaining the planet’s ecosystems. In fact, 84 percent of the crops grown for human consumption (over 400 different plants), require bees and other insects for pollination in order to increase their yields and quality.

These foods include most fruits and vegetables, many nuts, and plants such as rapeseed and sunflowers, as well as cocoa beans, coffee and tea. Crops grown as fodder for dairy cows and other livestock are also pollinated by bees. Bees are actually worth $170 billion per year for their annual global crop pollination.

Beyond their monetary value for maintaining the planet’s food supply, bees also make huge contributions to ecosystems around the world; they’re guardians of the food chain and the biodiversity of the planet.

Bees and flowers have a wonderful relationship – the bees need the flowers for food, and the flowers need the bees in order to be able to reproduce. Unlike other insects, nectar and pollen from flowering plants are a bee’s only food source, with the sweet nectar drink giving adult bees their daily energy needs.

A quote from Albert Einstein sums up the importance of the humble bee: “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years left to live.” The timescale is perhaps a little exaggerated, and leaves no room for our ability to invent a solution to the problem, however it successfully highlights how our survival is inextricably linked to that of bees.

The impacts of pesticides on bees

According to a press release from Greenpeace, there are various toxic pesticides used on many food products that we eat in our day-to-day lives. Lettuce, herbs, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, leeks, peas, tomatoes and lettuce, are among some of the common vegetables that are sprayed with pesticides during their production.

Pesticides such as thiamethoxam, chlorpyrifos, cypermethrin and deltamethrin are extremely toxic to bees, having an impact on their ability to reproduce, and harming population levels over time. These chemicals can also affect the ability of bees to navigate and forage, making it harder for them to pollinate plants and find food.

Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an assessment on pollinators, and found that the residues of various pesticides have been found in areas where bees forage and the bee populations are declining, due to sustained exposure to toxic chemicals through poisoned pollen and nectar.

To date, requests by many environmental groups for U.S. government agencies to ban these pesticides have been unsuccessful. But with big chains like Aldi taking the initiative to do the right thing, maybe more large retailers will start to consider the environmental impacts of their practices, and force their suppliers to do the same.