Asda came eighth in the supermarket ranking and were placed in the overall category ‘lagging behind’.
While Asda have a fairly good system for monitoring pesticides in food, they could be much more open about pesticides in their supply chain and so scored poorly on transparency. Like all other UK supermarkets, Asda could be doing more to reduce pesticide-related harms in their global supply chains.
Supporting suppliers to use non-chemical alternatives
Asda are not doing enough to encourage or support their suppliers to use non-chemical methods of pest control. For example, the company said it was neither providing training for growers nor do they fund research into non-chemical pest management techniques, both of which are crucial to assist farmers to move away from pesticides. However, they do have platforms for their suppliers to come together and share examples of best practice on reducing pesticide use. Asda also told PAN UK that they try to keep their supply chains as short as possible. This reduces the need to use fungicides which prevent fresh produce from rotting.
Monitoring and reducing pesticide residues in food
Asda told PAN UK that they conduct testing for pesticide residues on a wide range of food including fish, meat, dairy, wheat products, rice and fruit and vegetables. Unlike some other supermarkets they do not test processed foods or nuts. The company does test food specifically for glyphosate residues, something which many other supermarkets are failing to do, despite widespread public concern over its use. Asda could be doing more to work with specific suppliers to tackle particular problems of high residues when they emerge. While this can be done in a range of ways (for example by leaving longer times between spraying and harvest) in an ideal world Asda would be helping their suppliers to reduce residues by supporting them to adopt non-chemical alternatives.
Phasing out the most hazardous pesticides
Asda has lists of pesticides that they monitor, restrict or prohibit within their global supply chains. These include a number of Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs) that are of particular concern to PAN UK, such as paraquat which has been behind many cases of severe pesticide poisoning worldwide and can also be toxic to aquatic life. However, these lists fail to include many other pesticides that are of major concern to PAN UK due to their potential to cause harm to human health or environment. As just one example, Asda are taking no action on thiacloprid which was banned in the EU in October 2019 due to its potential impact on the human reproductive system.
Reducing harm caused to bees and pollinators
While Asda do have a few positive initiatives (such as working with their suppliers to establish ‘biodiversity plots’ where they nurture pollinators in a concentrated area) they are not taking enough action to minimise the harm caused to pollinators by their overall operations. For instance, unlike some other supermarkets, the company doesn’t have a specific pollinator plan in place or run training, produce guidance or offer advice to their suppliers on how to best protect pollinators. Asda also haven’t banned bee-harming neonicotinoid pesticides from their global supply chains and have no phase out plan in place to do so.
Selling pesticide products
Like the majority of UK supermarkets, Asda continues to sell pesticides on its shelves. However, the company told PAN UK, that unlike some other supermarkets, they do not offer deals and discounts on pesticides. This is a positive thing since it avoids encouraging shoppers to buy more than they need, a situation which often leads to unused pesticides being poured down the sink or put in landfill which can contaminate water and soil. Asda also told PAN UK that they sell non-chemical alternatives to pesticides, but make no particular efforts to advertise their benefits to customers. The company also fails to inform customers of the potential risks to human health and the environment associated to the pesticide products they sell or how best to avoid them.
Boosting organic sales
Asda declined to provide PAN UK with a figure for what percentage of the company’s sales are of organic produce. They do, however, have an own-brand organic range, although do not appear to have any plans in place to proactively increase their organic sales or to expand existing organic ranges.
Engaging with customers on reducing pesticide use
There are three key actions supermarkets can take to involve their customers in helping them to reduce pesticide use in their supply chains. Asda told PAN UK that they sell fruit and vegetables that aren’t perfect, thereby reducing the need for cosmetic pesticides.
However, the company said they are not currently encouraging their customers to accept finding the odd bug in fresh produce. This is a missed opportunity since customer complaints about insects can often hold a supermarket back from reducing its pesticide use. However, once shoppers understand that there is a bug in their lettuce (for example) because it has been grown with fewer chemicals, they tend to be supportive.
Asda also told PAN UK that they are not making any particular efforts to promote fruit and vegetables that are in season and therefore more likely to be grown closer to home. This is another missed opportunity since keeping supply chains short tends to lessen the need to use fungicides which prevent fresh produce from rotting while they are being transported.
Being transparent about pesticides
Asda could be much more transparent regarding pesticides in their supply chain. Currently their customers have no way of finding out which pesticides are used in the company’s global supply chains or which pesticide residues appear in the food they sell. The company’s pesticide policy is not publically available, nor do they publish the result of their in-house residue testing programme. Asda publishes some information on its efforts to help biodiversity, but provides almost no detail on its plans for pesticide reduction. PAN UK requested a copy of Asda’s lists of restricted and prohibited pesticides but the company declined to provide them. However, Asda did tell PAN UK that they soon plan to publish some information on the results of their in-house residue testing programme.