- New research suggests UK supermarkets are not doing enough to protect human health and the environment from the most hazardous pesticides in their supply chain.
- An analysis of the top 10 retailers in the UK by the Pesticide Action Network UK criticized many supermarket chains for failing to be transparent about their use of pesticides.
- Pesticides found in supermarkets’ supply chains include carcinogens, reproductive toxins and endocrine disruptors that interfere with hormones.
UK supermarkets are not doing enough to protect human health and the environment from the most hazardous pesticides in their supply chain, according to new research.
An analysis rating the top 10 retailers in the UK by the Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK) also criticized several supermarket brands for failing to be transparent about the use of pesticides in their supply chains.
Pesticides found in supermarkets’ supply chains include carcinogens, reproductive toxins and endocrine disruptors that interfere with hormones, but the charity said customers are not routinely given relevant information on product labels and websites.
PAN UK ranked supermarkets with the largest share of sales against eight criteria related to pesticide use and transparency based on a survey.
Lidl did not respond to the survey and was ranked last as a result, while Asda and Iceland were found to be “lagging behind”, respectively in eighth and ninth place in the ranking. The Co-op, Tesco, Morrisons and Aldi received a middle ranking of “could do better”; Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s were said to be “making good progress” since the last review was carried out in 2011.
PAN UK highlighted the harms caused to bees and other pollinators by the supermarkets’ operations, such as the continued use of bee-toxic neonicotinoids in Aldi’s global supply chain despite an EU ban on the substance entering into force last year. In August, an investigation by Agência Pública and Repórter Brasil found that the use of neonicotinoids in Brazil had led to the death of half a billion bees between December 2018 and February 2019.
PAN UK said all the supermarkets included in the survey continued to allow the use of highly hazardous pesticides as defined by the United Nations, while some, including Marks & Spencer and the Co-op, had regressed in terms of transparency by limiting access to residue testing data.
As higher-end supermarkets are doing more to reduce harm from pesticides, customers on lower incomes are less likely to have the choice to shop at supermarkets with higher standards, PAN UK said.
Most supermarkets maintain lists of specific pesticides that are monitored, restricted or banned, but only Marks & Spencer makes theirs public, PAN UK said.
Josie Cohen, head of policy and campaigns at PAN UK, said concerned shoppers’ trying to find out what chemicals their family was exposed to had little information to go on.
“The information isn’t on food labels or supermarket websites. Customers have the right to know which food contains the most pesticides so, at the very least, supermarkets should be publishing the results of their in-house residue testing schemes,” she said.
“Most of the pesticides used in global agriculture are entirely unnecessary. There are tried and tested non-chemical alternatives which protect human health and don’t trash the environment but still produce the amount of food we need.
“The ranking has revealed that the pricier supermarkets tend to be doing more to tackle pesticides. But the truth is all UK supermarkets make huge profits so there is absolutely no need to pass the cost of pesticide reduction on to customers. If we are to have any chance of reversing the current biodiversity and public health crises, then all supermarkets need to step up and do more to prevent pesticide-related harms.”
Supermarkets included in the ranking have said they are working to improve information-sharing with customers and that their suppliers’ use of pesticides is governed by EU regulations. Asda this week began to publish the results of its pesticide residue tests.
Banner image of a pesticide warning sign. Image courtesy of Austin Valley on flickr.
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