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Pacific Northwest
Hawai'i CFS

Victory! Preferred Popcorn Nixes Bee-Toxic Neonics

By: Larissa Walker, Pollinator Program Director

October 03, 2016
Center for Food Safety

This farmer-owned company’s commitment to protect pollinators is POPPIN’!

There’s more good news in the pollinators and popcorn world, and it’s just in time for National Popcorn Poppin’ Month. We’re excited to share that a third company, Preferred Popcorn, a fully farmer-owned company that provides popcorn to popular popcorn brands and movie theatre concessions, has taken bold steps toward removing bee-toxic insecticides from their popcorn supply chain. As many consumers are aware, the most widely-used class of insecticides, neonicotinoids (neonics for short), are harmful to both bees and the broader environment.

That’s why exactly one year ago CFS launched a new market campaign, and with the help of our members, we’ve been encouraging popcorn companies to phase out the use of neonicotinoid seed coatings. Only a couple of months after launching this campaign, we were thrilled that two of the leading companies saw value in the idea – Pop Weaver and Pop Secret both committed to phase out their use of neonics in order to help protect bees, other pollinators, and the environment. The momentum has continued to grow over the past year, and we’re now happy to applaud Preferred for not only agreeing to completely remove neonics from their supply chain by 2017, but also for their leadership in launching the addition of a certified organic popcorn line to their inventory. 

Today’s news about Preferred Popcorn’s commitment is significant for a couple of reasons – for starters, it’s an indication that companies are listening to consumers and building a strong sense of corporate social responsibility. Beyond that, Preferred’s leadership is unique because the company is fully farmer-owned, and these farmers have agreed to nix neonics out of concern for bees and the environment. An unfortunate trend that I’ve noticed in the years that I’ve been working on pollinator issues is that farmers are often unfairly blamed for problems with pesticides and bees. I think that Preferred’s commitment is a strong counter to that narrative and is an important reminder of the critical role farmers can play in efforts to protect pollinators and the environment.

Along those lines, it’s important to point out that in many cases, especially with corn seed, the monopolistic agrochemical and seed companies leave farmers with no choice but to use pesticide-coated seeds. This extreme lack of farmer choice is a direct result of the fact that the four largest agrochemical and seed companies control nearly 60 percent of the global patented seed market, and as such, they have a vested interest in coupling seed sales with chemical sales. Unfortunately, the market is set up to promote the use of the chemicals, regardless of need or consequence…and sadly, in the case of bees, there are certainly consequences.

Seed coatings are a common but relatively new method of applying pesticides to crops. The seed is covered with the pesticide or pesticide mixture (fungicide and insecticide combinations are common), allowing the chemicals to be taken up into the plant as it grows – ultimately rendering the whole plant toxic. Yet, depending on the crop, only five percent of the active chemical applied to the seed actually enters the plant, leaving the remaining 95 percent to enter the environment through seed dust off, soil contamination, or water runoff.

Bees are exposed to the chemicals in flight and via the toxic dust that is released during seed planting. The dust can settle on nearby wildflowers and pose additional threats to bees when collecting pollen and nectar. A significant amount of the chemical on the seed is also absorbed into the surrounding soil and groundwater, allowing wildflowers and trees near crop fields to absorb the chemicals from the soil and present yet another route of toxic exposure for bees. The chemicals that persist in the soil also pose a significant threat to native bees, as 70 percent of native bees build their nests in the soil.

Needless to say, these chemicals are having harmful impacts, which is why we should both celebrate when companies like Preferred step up to the plate, and continue to fight for much-needed changes to the system. To date, the largest popcorn company, Orville Redenbacher’s, has refused to take action for bees and phase out uses of neonic seed coatings. Want to take action and help save bees? Here are a few options to get you started:

  1. Join us in keeping the pressure on Orville Redenbacher’s to do the right thing for bees by signing the petition here.
  2. Vote with your dollar when shopping by supporting popcorn companies that are bee-friendly and don’t use neonics in their growing practices. You can check out some of these popcorn brands in our popcorn guide here.
  3. Visit our popcorn campaign website to learn more about the issues and help us raise awareness.
  4. Share the popcorn guide with your family and friends.
  5. Learn about other simple steps you can take to help pollinators, starting in your homes and backyards.
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