…but there’s still a long way to go
The reliance on chemical pesticides in commercial monoculture production of bananas has been recognised as a contributing factor in the spread of the Tropical Race 4 disease currently threatening the existence of the dominant Cavendish banana sold in our supermarkets. Pesticides have also long been implicated in environmental damage caused in banana producing areas of the world, along with negative impacts on the health of workers on banana plantations and their surrounding communities.
It is with interest then that Banana Link has read the recent report by the Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK) following a campaign they launched last year calling on UK supermarkets to do more to protect human health and the environment from pesticides used in their global supply chains.
PAN UK has called on all supermarkets to phase out the most hazardous pesticides from their global supply chains, while also urging them to become more transparent about pesticides by making a range of information publicly available, including their full pesticide policy and detailed results of their residue testing programmes.
Despite it being very early days for the campaign – which will run until at least 2022 – PAN UK have reported that many supermarkets have already made small but important commitments to extra actions they will take to reduce pesticide-related harms. These actions are summarised below:
- Aldi will expand their residue testing programme to include a wider variety of food items. This puts more pressure on suppliers to reduce pesticide use in order to avoid high residues.
- In 2020, they plan to publish a web page describing their approach to pesticides. While this is an improvement on some other supermarket websites which don’t include any information on pesticides, it falls short of PAN-UK’s calls for supermarkets to be more transparent by publishing their full pesticide policy.
- Asda have published a broad overview of the results of their pesticide residue testing programme. This is a step forward but the information is very general so, as with all UK supermarkets, their customers remain unable to find out which specific food items contain the highest levels of pesticides and therefore to avoid.
- Asda also published a blog post giving their customers some basic information on which pesticides they ban, how they work with farmers to reduce pesticides and ways in which they are improving on transparency. It is hoped that Asda will publish their full pesticide policy and the lists of which pesticides they ban, restrict and monitor in future.
- They plan to publish details of their pesticide policy in the near future.
- They are looking into ways of boosting their organic sales by stocking a wider range of organic items, but only in stores that already enjoy relatively high organic sales. PAN-UK believes that Co-op should consider working to increase organic sales across all of their stores.
- In 2020, M&S plans to reinstate their Agronomy Group which gives growers a chance to share knowledge around pesticide reduction and non-chemical alternatives. Enabling farmers to come together is a vital part of supporting them to reduce pesticide use.
- They will review the lists of pesticides that they ban, restrict and monitor throughout their global supply chains. In particular, PAN will be pushing the company to ban bee-toxic neonicotinoids throughout its global supply chains.
- The company has plans to expand its organic range by 15-20% and make their organic products more appealing through a redesign of the packaging.
- In September 2019, Morrisons announced that it would be taking glyphosate-based weedkillers off their shelves in 2020. A welcome commitment, but PAN would like them to go further by ending the sale of all synthetic pesticide products.
- The company will publish more information on their pesticide policy in 2020.
- They will communicate the beneficial role ‘pests’ can play in the environment and educate their customers to accept finding the odd insect. This is crucial since complaints from customers about finding bugs in fresh produce is a key obstacle to reducing pesticide use.
- Sainsbury’s are looking into ways of boosting organic sales through expanding their organic ranges and doing more to promote them.
- Tesco plan to expand their residue testing programme to include frozen and canned produce.
- While Tesco does place restrictions on the use of certain pesticides, it is one of the few UK supermarkets which does not have set lists of pesticides which it bans, restricts or monitors due to environmental and health concerns. The company told PAN that it plans to create these lists of pesticides which would be a huge step forward in reducing pesticide-related harms throughout its global supply chains.
- They intend to expand their organic range by up to 60 new products.
- Waitrose are looking to replace their range of synthetic pesticide products with organic or non-chemical equivalents. They also plan to provide advice to customers on non-chemical methods for controlling pests in store or online.
- They are proactively looking to increase the number of organic items that they sell.
- Waitrose is also funding work at Exeter University looking at how can soil management can help reduce the need for certain pesticides in banana production.
As part of their campaign, PAN UK has produced a ranking of UK supermarkets based on an assessment of how each supermarket is doing on eight key topics related to pesticides, which is summarised in the table below:
PAN UK’s campaign will be pushing for them to go much further and implement their full list of Recommendations for UK supermarkets.
You can support PAN UK’s campaign by telling your supermarket that you care about this issue and want them to take action here: http://pan-uk.eaction.org.uk/supermarkets