UK supermarkets 'not transparent enough' about pesticide use

Many UK supermarkets are not being transparent with shoppers about the use of potentially harmful pesticides in their global supply chains, according to a report.

In an analysis rating the top 10 retailers, Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK) says some are not doing enough to protect human health and the environment from hazardous pesticides in food and gardening products.

These can include carcinogens, reproductive toxins and endocrine disruptors that interfere with hormones, but the charity says relevant information is not routinely displayed on food labels and supermarket websites.

Pan UK surveyed and ranked the supermarkets with the largest share of grocery sales against eight criteria related to their use of pesticides and policies on sharing the information with customers.

Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s – respectively first, second and third – were singled out for “making good progress” since the previous exercise in 2011, while the Co-op, Tesco, Morrisons and Aldi received a middling ranking of “could do better”.

Meanwhile, Asda and Iceland were “lagging behind” in eighth and ninth position. Lidl was the only supermarket that failed to respond to the survey, and so was placed last.

While most supermarkets have lists of specific pesticides that are either monitored, restricted or banned from their global supply chains, M&S was the only supermarket to make its public.

Josie Cohen, the head of policy and campaigns at Pan UK, said: “UK shoppers are increasingly concerned about the impact of pesticides on their own health, the health of farmers and the natural environment.

“But supermarkets aren’t being open about pesticides, so a concerned shopper trying to find out what chemicals they and their family are exposed to has nowhere to go. The information isn’t on food labels or supermarket websites.”

She said customers had the right to know which food contained the most pesticides and, at the very least, supermarkets should be publishing the results of their in-house residue testing schemesso shoppers could find out which pesticides appeared in the food they were buying.

The charity said the supermarkets were not doing enough to reduce the harm caused to bees and other pollinators, while Aldi was the only one to have banned the use of bee-damaging neonicotinoids throughout its global supply chains. Neonicotinoids were banned by the EU in 2018.

In addition, all supermarkets with gardening sections – which excludes M&S and Iceland – continue to sell pesticide products, providing little or no information beyond the label to customers on the potential risks to human health and the environment.

A separate report co-authored by Pan UK and published last month suggests Brexit could expose people to increasing levels of pesticide residues in food, amid confusion over what standards might apply after the UK leaves the EU.

A spokesperson for Asda said: “We’re working hard with our growers and farmers on the responsible use of pesticides, such as through planting more habitats for insects and pollinators, but recognise that there is always room for improvement, especially in sharing information with our customers.

“Since this report was finalised, we have worked to address this by publishing the results of our pesticide residue tests on our website – the only supermarket to do so.”

Lidl referred to a generic statement from the British Retail Consortium. Elizabeth Andoh-Kesson, the BRC’s food policy adviser, said: “Food safety is a top priority for our members and they expect their suppliers to comply with all legal requirements.

“The approval of pesticides used on food is governed by EU regulations and underpinned by a comprehensive scientific review. The UK government regularly reviews and reports on the presence of pesticide residues in food and this considers the effect of multiple residues.”

Iceland did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


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