Busy as bees

By Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner

Friends of the Earth’s Bee Action campaign is driving change across the country thanks in large part to the thousands of volunteers that helped protect the bees this summer. Collaborating like a hive, they spread the word that bees are responsible for every one in three bites of our food and are essential to our ecosystems.

MARKETPLACE SHIFT

These volunteers, or bee-activists, compelled Ace Hardware and True Value, the third and fourth largest home improvement retailers in the U.S., to say they are willing to eliminate bee-killing pesticides in their products by 2019. Each beeactivist educated their community, made phone calls, organized protests and delivered letters, and because of their efforts, the retailers are starting to listen.

These well-known retailers got an earful in June when their corporate headquarters received thousands of phone calls from caring people dispatching the same message. A couple months after delivering such a powerful, united statement, more than 2,000 people signed up to host a brunch for bees. People gathered with their friends and families over the popular meal to talk about the importance of bees and their contribution to many of the most delicious and nutritious foods on our plates — and what we stand to lose if we don’t stop their continued decline. To celebrate our pollinator friends, everyone around their brunch table took two pictures: one with everything pollinated by bees and one without, with a sign that said, “Ace and True Value: save brunch! Stop selling bee-killing pesticides.” At the beginning of September, we delivered these pictures to Ace Hardware and True Value highlighting that it is their customers demanding this change.

Volunteers hosting a brunch for bees in Felton, California in August, 2015.

In response to the brunches, Ace Hardware and True Value spoke to the Chicago Tribune, which ran an article covering our campaign and the growing calls for elimination of these harmful pesticides. True Value spoke publicly for the first time on this issue saying, “We’ll look to phase out the sale of products that contain neonic pesticides over the next three years” and that it is working with its suppliers, “to understand the research and science of neonicotinoids.” Ace Hardware stuck with their previous statement from the end of May that it’s “willing to move away from products containing neonicotinoids as new and appropriate replacement products are offered by” suppliers.

While these statements reflect progress, they do not go nearly far enough. Ace Hardware and True Value need to make time-bound public commitments to eliminate these pesticides in both off-the-shelf products and garden plants. To demonstrate to these retailers that they must go much further to protect bees and other pollinators from neonics, over the month of October, more than 250 Friends of the Earth members signed up to host film screenings in their communities of the documentary “Nicotine Bees,” which outlines recent bee declines and explains how pesticides, including neonicotinoids, are a leading driver of their decline. These film screenings served as an opportunity for Friends of the Earth members and volunteers to educate their friends, families, neighbors and communities about the importance of bees, why we must eliminate pesticides and why Ace Hardware and True Value must commit to doing so. After the film, every person at the screening picked up the phone and called the retailers to deliver this
message.

Activists speak to an Ace Hardware employee about neonicitinoids during the Ace and True Value Week of Action in Washington, D.C. in November, 2015.

To pressure Ace Hardware and True Value to make public, time-bound commitments to eliminate bee-killing pesticides, Friends of the Earth and our allies organized swarms of people at Ace Hardware and True Value stores to urge for this change during a week of action in early November. 5,000 people signed up to swarm the retailers in person and deliver letters urging for immediate action for Ace and True Value to follow other industry leaders and stop the sale of beekilling pesticides. In addition to individual deliveries, Friends of the Earth members and volunteers organized larger deliveries and storefront actions in more than 10 communities dressing up as bees and finding creative, fun ways to convey the message.

Watch Beyond Pesticides and Friends of the Earth deliver letters to Ace and True Value stores.

In Chicago, Ace Hardware and True Value customers and our allies visited the corporate headquarters to deliver more than 401,000 petition signatures on behalf of people urging the retailers stop selling bee-killing pesticides. During the week of action, Ace Hardware issued a new statement that it is, “willing to move away from the sale of products containing neonicotinoids by spring of 2019.

In addition to the pressure on these retailers, we have expanded our efforts to one of the sources. We have urged the Bayer Corporation, one of the top manufacturers of bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides, to stop using deceptive tobacco PR tactics to distract the press, public, regulators and elected officials from their contribution to the bee crisis and to stop producing these harmful
chemicals. Friends of the Earth members and volunteers rallied this past September with the North Carolina community, beekeepers, farmers and State Representative Yvonne Holley, in front of North Carolina’s State Capitol to deliver more than 500,000 petition signatures to Bayer with this ask and to urge the state to act fast to protect bees from toxic pesticides.

Friends of the Earth members and volunteers rally in front of North Carolina’s State Capitol and deliver petitions to Bayer in September, 2015.

Without Friends of the Earth members and volunteers devoting their time to educating and organizing in their communities to protect the bees, the shift we’re seeing in Ace Hardware and True Value’s willingness to eliminate these pesticides would not be possible. In the coming months, we’ll need everyone to work together to ramp-up pressure on these retailers and manufacturers to ensure they make time-bound, public commitments to eliminate these pesticides and become champions for bees.

COMMUNITIES FOR BEES

Communities and universities across the U.S. are passing local resolutions, ordinances and policies to eliminate the use of bee-killing pesticides and actively plant pollinator-friendly, drought tolerant and native plants. Friends of the Earth members and volunteers from Massachusetts to California are taking the fight to protect bees to their own town hall, city council meetings or university administration to demand that their tax or tuition dollars support safe havens for bees and aren’t contributing to bee losses and environmental damage.

The latest victory happened in October in Montgomery County, Maryland. The county council passed a bill to restrict the non-essential use of toxic lawn pesticides, including banning the use of bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides! This victory happened thanks to hundreds of Montgomery County residents and Friends of the Earth members that wrote and called Council Members, showed up to hearings and held their elected officials accountable for protecting bees and not pesticide industry profits.

One community at a time, we’re seeing change and building power, which we hope will have a ripple effect by influencing the EPA and Congress to act fast to protect bees by eliminating bee-killing pesticides.

THE SCIENCE IS CLEAR

Evidence continues to mount that bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides are contaminating our ecosystems and contributing to bee declines. In August, the U.S. Geological Survey released the first national-scale study of the presence of neonicotinoids in urban and agricultural landscapes and foundover half of the steam samples contained neonicotinoids. The scientists of the study found that the insecticides applied in the previous year still may be found in waters with the potential to continue endangering organisms a year later.

In response to the preponderance of evidence, in September, the 9th Circuit Court ruled to revoke the EPA’s approval for sulfoxaflor — a bee-killing neonic pesticide — saying, “Leaving the EPA’s registration of sulfoxaflor in place risks more potential environmental harm than vacating it.” This decision sets a strong precedent that if the 9th Circuit Court believes one neonicotinoid pesticide is too toxic for the environment, all neonicotinoid pesticides are too toxic and the EPA should suspend all uses of these pesticides.

BEE THE CHANGE

As new data continues to emerge making the case stronger that we must act fast to protect bees, it is all the more important that people organize to continue building pressure in the marketplace and in their own communities for change.

You can help us build the pressure that is needed at the local level to encourage the EPA to take action on these pesticides by volunteering with Friends of the Earth to pass a local policy in your community that will eliminate pesticides and create pollinator-friendly habitats. In the coming months, we’ll also need your help to take the Ace Hardware and True Value campaign to the next level and ensure our backyards and communities are truly safe havens for bees.

Learn more here.

Activists take part in the Ace and True Value Week of Action outside a True Value store in Washington, D.C. in November, 2015.
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