Morrisons came seventh in the supermarket ranking and were placed in the overall category ‘could do better’. They have a relatively strong system for monitoring pesticide residues in food compared to other supermarkets. However, they could be much more open about pesticides in their supply chain and so scored poorly on transparency. Like all other UK supermarkets, Morrisons could be doing more to reduce pesticide-related harms in their global supply chains.
Monitoring and reducing pesticide residues in food
Morrisons test a variety of products for pesticide residues including rice, wheat products, eggs, meat, processed food, fruit and vegetables. They also test food specifically for glyphosate residues, which is something not all supermarkets are doing. Whilst they did not list as many products as other supermarkets, Morrisons told PAN UK that the items they test change year on year so, for example, herbs and spices weren’t tested for pesticide residues in 2019 but will be in 2020. The company also told us that if their testing programme reveals food items containing particularly high residues, or residues of pesticides not previously agreed for use by Morrisons, then it has an action plan in place. This involves working with the specific farmer to understand the reason for the problem and can include training them in alternative, often non-chemical, methods of pest control.
Supporting suppliers to use non-chemical alternatives
Morrisons told PAN UK that they are taking a range of measures to help their suppliers to adopt and maintain non-chemical methods of pest control. For instance, they are proactively looking to shorten their supply chains which reduces the need for farmers to use fungicides that prevent fresh produce from rotting. The company also provides guidance documents to farmers on reducing pesticide use. However, Morrisons are failing to take a number of actions adopted by other supermarkets. For example, while they are a member of an external organisation that carries out research on food chain issues including pesticide use, Morrisons aren’t directly funding or conducting any research, training or pilot projects on non-chemical alternatives, which could help their suppliers to radically reduce pesticide use.
Phasing out the most hazardous pesticides
Morrisons listed several Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs) that they are addressing concerns over, including paraquat which has been behind many cases of severe pesticide poisoning worldwide and can be toxic to fish and other aquatic life. The company also has lists of specific pesticides which it either monitors, restricts or phases out completely from its global supply chains. However, while Morrisons are doing relatively well in this area, they still don’t prohibit some of the most hazardous pesticides, including neonicotinoids which are extremely toxic to bees. When asked to comment, Morrison’s told PAN UK that they “…continually review the risk status of all pesticides through our independent risk assessment process and aim to phase out pesticides that you define as hazardous when possible.” They added that, in the past year, they have placed a pesticide into their “cannot use” category 998 times due to environmental or health concerns.
Engaging with customers on reducing pesticide use
Morrisons told PAN UK that they are taking the following actions to involve their customers in reducing pesticide use in their supply chains:
- Morrisons sells fruit and vegetables that aren’t perfect through its “Wonky Range”, thereby reducing the need for cosmetic pesticides. The company told us they currently sell around 625,000 packs of “wonky” per week across 20 different product lines and have run adverts on national TV to educate customers of the associated benefits.
- 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.
However, Morrisons 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. Morrisons made a commitment to PAN UK that, in the future, they will communicate the beneficial role ‘pests’ can play in the environment and educate their customers to accept finding the odd insect.
Reducing harm caused to bees and pollinators
Morrisons told PAN UK that they carry out assessments to look at the risks posed by specific pesticides to bees. If the risk assessment identifies that a pesticide has the potential to be particularly harmful to bees then they will monitor, restrict or prohibit its use. However, Morrisons could be doing more. While they gave examples of specific suppliers that they are working with to protect bees and other pollinators, these efforts appear to be fairly limited in scope. The company doesn’t appear to have a wider plan in place to encourage all their suppliers to adopt pollinator-friendly practices such as leaving field margins uncultivated. The company does restrict the use of bee-harming neonicotinoids, but falls short of banning them from its global supply chains.
Boosting organic sales
Morrisons declined to provide PAN UK with a figure for what percentage of the company’s sales are of organic produce. However they did report that they sell 30 “lines” of organic products. The company told PAN UK that they continually review their range of organic products based on a range of factors, including customer demand. The company declined to provide details of future plans to increase organic sales but did say that they promote their organic products through social media, in-store merchandising and price promotion activity.
Being transparent about pesticides
Morrisons 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 or which pesticide residues appear in the food they sell. Morrisons told PAN UK that they will publish information on their pesticides policy in 2020, however currently the company does not have any recent information on its website. It also does not publish the results of its residue testing programme and appears to have no plans to do so, although did provide some detail to PAN UK upon request. Morrisons do not make their lists of restricted or prohibited pesticides publicly available and declined to provide them to PAN UK stating that “Our pesticide control lists are jointly agreed and owned between Morrisons and its suppliers… due to the joint ownership we cannot unilaterally put them into the public domain”.
Selling pesticide products
Morrisons sell pesticides products on their shelves and make no additional effort to inform their customers of the associated potential risks to human health and environment, beyond the information provided on the product label. They also offer deals and discounts on pesticides which can encourage shoppers to buy more than they need and lead to unused pesticides being poured down the sink or put in landfill which can contaminate water and soil. However, they did tell PAN UK that they only offer money off on single packs, specifically to discourage stockpiling. Regardless, offering deals contravenes 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”. Morrisons do also sell non-chemical weed prevention alternatives such as barks and mulches. In September 2019, Morrisons announced that it would be taking glyphosate-based weedkillers off their shelves the following year. However the company did not commit to removing other types of synthetic pesticides.