Friends of the Earth
Friends of the Earth believes that the food we buy in supermarkets should be safe to eat and produced in a way which safeguards the environment. For example, consumers should be able to buy food without having to worry about whether it contains pesticide residues. Yet Government figures show that about half of the fruit and vegetables sold in supermarkets contain pesticide residues.
What can supermarkets do about pesticides?
Supermarkets sell most of the food we eat in the UK. The top four supermarkets (Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, and Morrisons/Safeway) control over 70 per cent of the grocery market in the UK1. Supermarkets therefore have a high level of influence and control over the food chain. Farmers who supply the major supermarkets will normally be required to follow protocols which set out guidance on pesticide use and which may suggest some non-chemical ways of controlling pests and diseases. The most common of these are the 'Assured Produce' schemes. However there is so far little indication that these protocols have resulted in any notable decrease in pesticide use or the incidence of pesticide residues in supermarket food.
The following list shows the incidence of residues in supermarket fruit and vegetables according to the last three annual reports published by the Pesticide Residues Committee (PRC)2.
Pesticide residues in supermarket food 1998-2003:
Friends of the Earth consider that supermarkets should do more to reduce pesticide use. The codes of practice they set up with farmers should aim for a significant reduction in pesticide use and zero residues of pesticides in food. In practice this means that there should be no detectable residues even as technology develops and allows lower and lower levels to be found. Supermarkets should also prohibit the use of those pesticides which have the highest evidence of risk to the environment or health. This includes pesticides which have been shown to disrupt the hormone system such as carbendazim, lindane and vinclozolin, and those that affect the nervous system such as aldicarb and chlorpyrifos.
Farmers will need support and advice in order to reduce pesticide use significantly and to find alternatives to the most dangerous pesticides. Supermarkets should help farmers by providing advice and information to them about alternatives and by paying farmers a fair price for the food they supply. Supermarkets, and their customers, will need to be more flexible about the cosmetic appearance of fruit and vegetables because farmers have to use pesticides to achieve blemish free produce.
Supermarkets will also need to check carefully that farmers are following good practice.
1Taylor Nelson Sofres share of till roll 52 w/e December 8 2002. From Grocer magazine 11 January 2003 “Redrawing the grocery map of Britain” and Guardian 14 January 2003 “Who’ll be going down the aisle”.
2 Pesticide Residues Committee Quarterly and Annual Pesticide Monitoring Reports 1998-2003
However the Government must also play its part in finding alternatives to harmful pesticides, promoting and rewarding good practice and taking action where farmers flaunt the rules.
Friends of the Earth have found that most supermarkets have a policy to reduce the use of pesticides in producing their food, or to reduce the incidence of residues in the food they sell. However, there is a wide variation in the action that each of the supermarkets is taking and in how open they are prepared to be about their policies and about the pesticides which are found. Friends of the Earth regularly asks the supermarkets what they are doing to reduce pesticide use and residues - the table below gives our verdict.
Friends of the Earth's position
Friends of the Earth want supermarkets to take the following action:
1. Prohibit the use of the most dangerous pesticides by farmers who supply them, including those that are proven to disrupt the hormone system;
2. Aim for residue-free food and make this clear in their codes of practice on pesticides;
3. Provide free advice and information to the farmers who supply them about alternative methods of controlling pests and diseases;
4. Be more flexible about cosmetic standards for fruit and vegetables to make it easier for farmers to cut down on pesticide use.
5. Lobby Government for more research into alternatives to pesticides;
6. Set up independent monitoring and verification schemes to check on pesticide usage by farmers; and
7. Publish the results of their own pesticide residue testing in a way which is accessible to their customers.
Ask your supermarket for real food!
Have a look at the table below to see what the supermarkets are doing to get pesticides out of food. If you're not satisfied with your supermarket's response, let them know. Please send any replies you get to firstname.lastname@example.org.
How Friends of the Earth rate the supermarkets on pesticides