Marks and Spencer
M&S came first in the supermarket ranking and were found to be ‘making good progress’ overall.
Their efforts to support suppliers to reduce pesticide use were ranked as ‘outstanding’. In comparison to other supermarkets, they publish the most information on pesticides and so scored well on transparency. However, they no longer publish the results of their in-house residue testing programme and so could be more open. Like all other UK supermarkets, M&S could be doing more to reduce pesticide-related harms in their global supply chains.
Supporting suppliers to use non-chemical alternatives
M&S told PAN UK that they have adopted a wide range of measures to help their farmers take up and stick to non-chemical methods of pest control. For example, they encourage growers to use biopesticides and have trialled the use of non-chemical barrier treatments on some fruits to reduce the need for fungicides which prevent crops from rotting after harvest. The company also funds academic research into non-chemical methods of pest control and provides a range of training, technical support, advice and guidance for both suppliers and growers on pest control, all of which emphasise non-chemical controls as the first resort. M&S also told PAN UK that they encourage their suppliers to develop pesticide plans and adopt reduction targets which are based on ‘pest and disease prediction models’ so that any use of pesticides is in response to a ‘known risk’ rather than as an insurance policy. In terms of enabling their suppliers to come together to share examples of best practice in pesticide reduction, M&S told PAN UK that they plan to re-establish their Agronomy Group in 2020.
Monitoring and reducing pesticide residues in food
M&S test fruit and vegetables, rice, wheat products, dairy, meat wine and popcorn. They don’t currently test their products for glyphosate residues, despite major public concern regarding its impacts, but told PAN UK that they will review this in early 2020. In response to being asked how the company deals with the most serious residue problems, M&S told PAN UK that when their testing programme identifies a product containing residues which exceed 50% of the level set by regulators, then an investigation is triggered and the supplier is challenged to tackle the issue. M&S also told PAN UK that they work closely with their suppliers with the aim of making food “residue free”. With a particular focus on crops that have a higher risk of containing residues, M&S conducts research and trials of non-chemicals alternatives, and also connects suppliers with external companies and organisations with expertise in pesticide reduction.
Phasing out the most hazardous pesticides
M&S have a commitment to phase out, restrict – or at the very least monitor – the use of the most hazardous pesticides in their supply chains. The company has a list of specific pesticides which are of concern which includes many of those classified as ‘highly hazardous’ by the UN and PAN International. Once a pesticide has been added to its list, M&S either monitor or restricts its use, or phases it out completely from its global supply chains. However while M&S are doing better than most UK supermarkets in this area, they are still only monitoring, and therefore failing to ban, the use of some hazardous pesticides such as Fipronil which can be harmful to pollinators.
Engaging with customers on reducing pesticide use
M&S 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, M&S are making sure to explain that this may be because their suppliers are using less pesticides.
- M&S sells fruit and vegetables that aren’t perfect, thereby reducing the need for cosmetic pesticides. They also told PAN UK that they make efforts to use imperfect produce in their prepared meals.
The company is also making considerable 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.
Reducing harm caused to bees and pollinators
M&S’ pesticide policy contains a section on promoting biodiversity which mentions the company’s commitment to protecting pollinators from the most harmful pesticides. They told PAN UK that they encourage their suppliers to employ pollinator-friendly practices such as planting wild flower meadows, leaving field margins uncultivated and spraying pesticides outside of ‘busy bee’ times to reduce the risk of harm. They also said that they require all their suppliers to be certified by LEAF or FSA, organisations which provide guidance to farmers on how to protect pollinators. M&S do monitor or prohibit the use of a number of pesticides which are particularly toxic to bees and other pollinators such as Permethrin. However, while the company does encourage its non-EU suppliers to phase out bee-harming neonicotinoid pesticides (which were banned in Europe in 2018), they stop short of prohibiting them altogether in their global supply chains.
Being transparent about pesticides
M&S are more open about pesticides in their supply chain than any other UK supermarket. They are the only supermarket which publish online both their pesticide policy and the list of specific pesticides that they ban, restrict or monitor. Like all other UK supermarkets, however, M&S could be more transparent. They test the food they sell for pesticide residues but don’t make the results publically available. While M&S customers are therefore able to access more information on what pesticides may be used in the company’s supply chains than those of any other supermarket, they still aren’t able to find out precisely which pesticides are used or which pesticide residues appear in the food they buy. In response to this criticism, M&S told PAN UK that many of their suppliers publish “annual pesticide reports”.
Boosting organic sales
M&S told PAN UK that just 2% of sales across their business are of organic products. However they did state that they have plans to expand their organic range by 15-20%, in part through a partnership with retailer Ocado. They also told PAN UK that they are in the process of strengthening their relationships with organic certification bodies and making their organic products more appealing through a redesign of the packaging.
Selling pesticide products