Sainsbury’s came third in the supermarket ranking and were found to be ‘making good progress’ overall.
They are doing particularly well at helping their suppliers to switch to non-chemical alternatives when compared to other supermarkets, and their efforts in this area were ranked as ‘outstanding’. However, they could be much more open about pesticides in their supply chains and so scored poorly on transparency. Like all other UK supermarkets, Sainsbury’s could be doing more to reduce pesticide-related harms in their global supply chains.

How is Sainsbury's doing on pesticides?

Supporting suppliers to use non-chemical alternatives


Sainsbury’s offer a range of support to farmers to help them to reduce pesticide use. For example, they produce guidance documents and training on non-chemical pest control methods and maintain close relationships with their suppliers to assist them to make the required changes. They also encourage the use of biopesticides and run forums to bring their suppliers together to share best practice on a range of issues including reducing pesticide use. While these forums are extremely helpful for suppliers of Sainsbury’s, 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 Sainsbury’s lead if the company was more open with its examples of best practice.

Monitoring and reducing pesticide residues in food

Making good progress

Sainsbury’s listed a wider range of products that they test for pesticides residues than most other UK supermarket. The list includes wheat products, rice, fish, meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables and some processed foods. They specifically test for glyphosate, which is the world’s most widely used herbicide and the subject of much public concern. When Sainsbury’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. The company told PAN UK that this can include encouraging the supplier to adopt non-chemical alternatives to reduce residues.

Reducing harm caused to bees and pollinators

Making good progress

Sainsbury’s have a range of measures in place designed to encourage their suppliers to adopt pollinator-friendly practices such as planting wildflowers, providing guidance on how to protect pollinators, creating forums to bring farmers together to share tips and advice, and funding research into pollinator-health on their farms. Sainsbury’s also monitor, restrict and prohibit some pesticides that can be particularly toxic to bees and other pollinators (such as Permethrin and Acetamiprid). However, Sainsbury’s does still allow the use of a number of other pesticides which have been shown to be highly toxic to bees and other pollinators. These include Fipronil and Sulfoxaflor which are both still permitted for use in the company’s global supply chains, and neonicotinoids which are monitored but not banned.

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Boosting organic sales

Making good progress

Sainsbury’s has its own organic range – ‘So organic’ – which includes over 250 different products. The company also told PAN UK that they participate in a number of activities to promote organic foods (such as Organic September) and are also working with specific organic producer groups to better connect with their supply chain. While Sainsbury’s say they are looking to expand their organic ranges and do more to promote them, they failed to provide any detail to PAN UK as to how they are doing this. The company also declined to provide PAN UK with a figure for what percentage of its sales are of organic produce.

Phasing out the most hazardous pesticides

Could do better

Sainsbury’s has lists of pesticides that they monitor, restrict or prohibit within their global supply chains due to their high potential to harm human health or the environment. 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, Sainsbury’s are still not doing enough. While they are monitoring some of the most hazardous pesticides such as neonicotinoids (which are extremely toxic to bees), they are falling short of restricting or, better still, prohibiting their use.

Engaging with customers on reducing pesticide use

Could do better

Sainsbury’s told PAN UK that they are taking the following actions to involve their customers in reducing pesticide use in their supply chains:

  • Sainsbury’s sells 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.

However, Sainsbury’s 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.

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Being transparent about pesticides

Lagging behind

Sainsbury’s could be much more open with regards to 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. Like all other supermarkets, they do not publish the results of their in-house residue testing programme. They also don’t publish their lists of pesticides that they monitor, restrict or prohibit. While the company does have some information on its website about actions it is taking to reduce pesticide use in its supply chains, it falls short of providing specific detail. PAN UK requested a copy of Sainsbury’s lists of restricted and prohibited pesticides but the company declined to provide them.

Selling pesticide products

Lagging behind

Sainsbury’s sells pesticide products on its shelves. While the company does publish some guidance on its website about the potential dangers associated to using these products, it makes no effort to provide this information to its customers at the point of sale in-store. Sainsbury’s also offer deals and discounts on pesticides which encourages shoppers to buy more than they need. This often leads to unused pesticides being poured down the sink or put in landfill which can contaminate water and soil. It also 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”. Sainsbury’s do also sell non-chemical forms of pest control, however, but could be doing more to promote the environmental and health benefits to customers.

What is PAN UK asking supermarkets to do?

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How do the supermarkets compare?

Click on the logos below for more detail on how each supermarket is doing on pesticides.

How is Aldi doing on pesticides?
How is ASDA doing on pesticides?
How is Coop doing on pesticides?
How is Iceland doing on pesticides?
How is Lidl doing on pesticides?
How is Marks & Spencer doing on pesticides?
How is Morrisons doing on pesticides?
How is Sainsbury's doing on pesticides?
How is Tesco doing on pesticides?
How is Waitrose doing on pesticides?