Walmart announced that its fresh produce suppliers are going to face some new requirements aimed at protecting bee populations. The mega-retailer invoked images of a world without orange juice, strawberry salads, and apple pie in a press release detailing the coming changes. It stresses that all of us will have to pitch in so we don’t see a world without bees.
Walmart is making two big asks from its producers. First, it’s encouraging fresh produce suppliers to “protect, restore, or establish pollinator habitats by 2025 on at least 3% of land they own. . .and report annual progress.” It’s also requiring its producers to develop an Integrated Pest Management system certified by a third-party. And they’re encouraging suppliers to phase out certain neonictinoids pesticides.
The whole thing has me rolling my eyes. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to protect pollinators. In fact, bees are a big deal to farmers; without them many of our crops wouldn’t grow. Like everyone else, we also like to eat those crops, which are important for a well-balanced diet. So a world without bees would be catastrophic for everyone, including those in agriculture.
Here’s the problem: the media’s narrative on bee-pocalypse is overblown and wrong. It’s true some wild bee species were added to the endangered species list over the last decade. But honey bees were never endangered. Yes, we saw some population declines in the early 2000s due to Colony Collapse Disorder. But CCD ended abruptly in 2011, and there was no evidence pesticides caused it. (Although there was evidence that the varroa mite played a big role.) Since then, honey-bee populations have rebounded to decade highs.
But some activist groups used CCD and a renewed concern over bees as an opportunity. They’ve tried to demonize the neonic pesticides they so desperately want to ban, despite no convincing evidence connecting these crop-protection tools to bee deaths. We see that reflected in Walmart’s announcement. It makes it seem like farmers are some callous group of heathens hell-bent on destroying the world. Yes, we spray as many pesticides as possible, without any care or concern, because we want to kill all the bees! Thank goodness our giant corporate overlord Walmart is here to save the day!
Enter the eye roll. Sorry, that’s just not how we operate. So it’d be really great if everyone stopped blaming agriculture for the problem (to the extent there is a problem). In reality, our farms provide lots of natural habitat for happy pollinators. And agriculture employs and supports skilled beekeepers who can properly care for and maintain bee hives. Large Walmart parking lots don’t do that.
In all honesty, I doubt Walmart ever really considered any of this. Saving the bees feels good. It’s a strong virtue-signaling move. Who’s going to argue about it? (Me, apparently.) So they handed down edicts to their farmers and passed the buck to them. It certainly puts those farmers in a pickle; follow these arbitrary requirements for a problem that doesn’t exist or you no longer have a market for your produce.
Listen, I’m all about environmental stewardship. Society has long ignored just how important bees are to our modern way of life. I’m glad people are paying attention. And there’s certainly things we can all do to support good pollinator health, like using flowering plants in our landscaping. What I have a problem with is Walmart placing the blame on farmers without any evidence that this new initiative is anything but fruitless. Meanwhile, there’s probably plenty of things Walmart itself could do to be kinder to the Earth.
This goes back to a larger point I’ve always tried to make. If you’re concerned about bees, climate change, clean water, or clean air, farmers are the solution not the culprit.