UK supermarkets keeping customers in the dark over pesticides

  • Last updated: 16 September 2022

The supermarkets are taking in big money during Christmas and New Year. But are they being transparent with customers on the important issue of pesticides in their products?

PAN UK (Pesticide Action Network) has published a ranking on how well the top ten UK supermarkets are doing on reducing pesticides. They argue that well-known supermarkets – such as Asda, Iceland and Lidl - are not doing enough to protect human health, wildlife, or the environment from hazardous pesticides.

Despite being critical of the supermarket sector as a whole, PAN UK’s ranking does reveal that some companies are doing much better than others. M&S, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s were found to be ‘making good progress”. They work with their suppliers, engage their customers on pesticide issues, and stock a good proportion of organic foods. The Co-op, Tesco, Morrisons and Aldi received a middling ranking of ‘could do better’, while Asda and Iceland are ‘lagging behind’. Lidl was the only supermarket which failed to respond to the PAN UK survey and so came last.

Josie Cohen, Head of Policy and Campaigns at PAN UK said: “Shoppers are increasingly concerned about the impact of pesticides on their own health and the natural environment. But supermarkets aren’t being open about pesticides. The information isn’t on food labels or supermarket websites.

“Pesticides can drive irreversible harms to both human health and the environment. The evidence linking pesticides to diseases such as cancer and Parkinson’s increases year-on-year. Meanwhile, recent studies have named pesticides as one of the key drivers of biodiversity losses which have placed one million species at risk of extinction.”

Sale of pesticides
Garden Organic members may be particularly interested in the pesticide products on sale. While not all supermarkets have gardening sections, those that do all sell pesticide products.

Garden Organic supports PAN UK when they argue that supermarkets should phase out the sale of chemical pesticide products, and should instead be stocking organic, non-hazardous alternatives. To offer deals or discounts on pesticide products is also contravening the UN International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management which says that retailers should not offer “…incentives or gifts to encourage the purchase of pesticides.”

What can you do?
• First check your supermarket’s ranking and vote with your feet - if you can, choose to shop at one of the supermarkets towards the top of the list.
• You can take action – by writing to the CEO for instance and urging them to work with PAN UK to reduce the chain’s pesticide footprint.
• Buy organic if you can afford it, buy seasonal veg and fruit locally sourced or, better still, grow your own organic food.
• Never buy toxic gardening pesticide products.

As Cohen concludes: “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. With their sprawling supply chains and powerful influence over how food is produced, they are uniquely positioned to drive a wholesale shift away from pesticides, not just in the UK but globally.”