Co-op came fourth in the supermarket ranking and were placed in the overall category ‘could do better’.
They scored relatively well on engaging their customers on issues related to pesticide reduction. However, they are not doing enough to protect bees and pollinators from pesticide-related harms. Like all other UK supermarkets, Co-op could be doing more to reduce pesticide-related harms in their global supply chains.
Supporting suppliers to use non-chemical alternatives
Co-op told PAN UK that they work proactively with their growers to help identify alternative methods of controls and also work closely with a “specialist independent body” to provide advice to their suppliers on pesticide reduction. They stated that this approach has been “extremely successful” in reducing pesticide use in their supply chains and they are committed to continuing with it. In addition to providing advice, Co-op also organise forums for growers to meet and discuss non-chemical farming techniques. This enables good practice to spread from farm to farm. While these forums are extremely helpful for suppliers of Co-op, the advice and tips shared are not made publicly available. This misses a key opportunity to influence other farmers and retailers who would potentially follow Co-op’s lead if the company was more open about its examples of best practice. The company also conducts research on non-chemical alternatives to pesticides which it shares with its own suppliers, but does not make publicly available.
Engaging with customers on reducing pesticide use
Co-op told PAN UK that they are taking the following actions to involve their customers in reducing pesticide use in their supply chains:
- In response to complaints from customers who find a bug in fresh produce, Co-op explain that this may be because their suppliers are using less pesticides.
- Co-op include fruit and vegetables that aren’t perfect, thereby reducing the need for cosmetic pesticides.
The company is also making efforts to promote fruit and vegetables that are in season and therefore more likely to be grown closer to home. Keeping supply chains short tends to lessen the need to use fungicides which prevent fresh produce from rotting while they are being transported.
Boosting organic sales
Co-op told PAN UK that just 2% of their produce sales are organic. However, they are seeking to increase sales of organic food by stocking a wider range of organic items, but only in stores that already enjoy relatively high organic sales. While this is better than many other supermarkets which are not proactively promoting organic, Co-op should consider taking a broader approach by working to increase organic sales across all of their stores.
Monitoring and reducing pesticide residues in food
Co-op test fruit and vegetables, wheat products, rice, fish, dairy and meat for pesticide residues. They do not test as wide a range of products as some other supermarkets, omitting food items such as nuts and flour. They also don’t test their products specifically for glyphosate residues, despite its overuse in global agriculture production and major public concern regarding its impacts. When Co-op’s testing programme identifies a product containing high residues, the company works with the specific supplier to ensure that they are not using the pesticide incorrectly. Co-op told PAN UK that this can include encouraging the supplier to adopt non-chemical alternatives to reduce residues.
Phasing out the most hazardous pesticides
Co-op has in place a set of criteria against which pesticides are assessed to see if they should be of particular concern due to their high potential to cause harm to human health or the environment. Once a specific pesticide has been identified as ‘highly hazardous’, the company either monitors its use or puts in place an action plan for restricting or phasing it out of its global supply chains. The company told PAN UK that they prohibit the use of “a number of pesticides”, have a “rigorous monitoring system” in place and only use pesticides where they are “necessary”. However Co-op are failing to prohibit some of the most hazardous pesticides such as neonicotinoids which are extremely toxic to bees and other pollinators.
Selling pesticide products
Like the majority of UK supermarkets, Co-op continues to sell pesticides on its shelves and could be doing more to provide information to customers regarding the human health and environmental risks associated to the use of these products. Co-op told PAN UK that it does not offer deals or discounts on pesticide products. This is a positive since it discourages people from buying more than they need and getting rid of the excess down the drain or in the bin, which can contaminate water and soil. In addition to selling pesticides as part of their gardening range, Co-op also sells non-chemical alternatives. However, they could be doing more to promote the environmental and health benefits of using non-chemical forms of pest control.
Reducing harm caused to bees and pollinators
Co-op could be doing much more to protect bees and other pollinators and enable them to thrive in and around their suppliers’ farms. While Co-op does monitor the risks posed to pollinators by various pesticides that have the potential to be particularly harmful, it still uses bee-harming pesticides in its global supply chains, including the three neonicotinoids banned by the EU in 2018. The company also failed to detail any concrete examples of ways in which it is working with suppliers to encourage them to adopt and maintain pollinator-friendly practices, such as leaving uncultivated field margins. However, Co-op did tell PAN UK that pollinators is one of the topics discussed in their grower groups.
Being transparent about pesticides
Co-op could be much more transparent regarding pesticides. Currently their customers have no way of finding out what pesticides are used in the company’s global supply chains. In October 2019, when PAN UK was preparing the ranking of UK supermarkets, Co-op only had one sentence about pesticides on their website. They do not publish the results of their in-house residue testing programme meaning that customers cannot find out what pesticide residues are in the products they buy. However, unlike the majority of supermarkets, upon request they did send PAN UK the list of pesticides that they prohibit, but do not make this publicly available at present.