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Must try harder: UK supermarkets not doing enough to limit use of hazardous pesticides

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“Highly toxic” pesticides continue to be used within the supply chains of all the UK’s major supermarket chains, says Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK).

The campaign group says that the array of pesticides used by Britain’s top 10 food retailers include known carcinogens and hormone disruptors, as well as bee-toxins and water contaminants shown to harm aquatic species.

A PAN UK survey published today includes a ranking of supermarkets based on eight criteria including supply chain use of hazardous pesticides, residues in food, transparency, organic offer and the sale of direct-to-consumer pesticide products such as weedkillers. 

Source: PAN UK

Josie Cohen from PAN UK said “While our ranking reveals that some supermarkets are doing much better than others, we found that they could all be doing more to phase out the most dangerous pesticides. While some of these chemicals are still used in the UK, many have been banned because of their impact on human health and the environment. But they are still allowed in many other countries where our food is grown, and where they routinely poison workers and wildlife and contaminate the natural environment.”

The results published today echo those of PAN UK’s previous supermarket ranking in 2019, but with some key changes. M&S and Waitrose continue to be ‘best in class’, with Co-op and Sainsbury’s swapping third and fourth positions, but still close behind.  Morrisons has jumped up two places since 2019 to take fifth, while both Tesco and Asda’s positions remained static in sixth and eighth place respectively. Lidl, which did not respond to the survey in 2019, came in seventh. Aldi, meanwhile, tumbled from fifth to ninth, after clarifying that bee-toxic and other harmful pesticides banned by the EU do, in fact, remain in use in their supply chains. Iceland dropped one position since 2019 to come in last.

Cohen added, “As a sector, supermarkets have made progress in reducing pesticide-related harms over the past two years but there is still a long way to go. Due to the global environmental crisis, more and more people are thinking about how their eating habits are impacting nature. Customers want to be sure they aren’t driving serious health or environmental problems in the UK or beyond, and are increasingly deciding where to shop based on these type of concerns.”

Responding to the survey, the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said that its members were expected to comply with all legal requirements and that food and operator safety were a top priority. 

Elizabeth Andoh-Kesson, food policy adviser at the BRC told the i newspaper:  “The approval of pesticides used on food is governed by UK and EU regulations, and they are underpinned by a comprehensive scientific review. The UK Government regularly reviews and reports on the presence of pesticide residues in food and where issues are identified they are thoroughly investigated and action is taken if necessary.”

Asda added that it worked closely with suppliers to “ensure responsible use of pesticides” and had created a Plant Protection Policy to ensure compliance with current regulations. 

An Asda spokesperson added: ‘’We work closely with our suppliers to ensure the responsible use of pesticides. This year we created our Plant Protection Policy, this outlines what steps our suppliers must take to ensure compliance and goes above and beyond adhering to the relevant regulations when it comes to pesticides they use on crops which end up on our shelves. Lidl GB said it worked closely with suppliers :to keep pesticide use to an absolute minimum”.

Photo by Teo Sticea on Unsplash

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