Tesco came sixth in the supermarket ranking and were placed in the overall category ‘could do better’.
They scored relatively well on monitoring and reducing pesticide residues in food compared to some other supermarkets. However, they continue to offer deals and discounts on pesticide products and don’t sell non-chemical alternatives, so scored poorly on this topic. Like all other UK supermarkets, Tesco could be doing more to reduce pesticide-related harms in their global supply chains.
Monitoring and reducing pesticide residues in food
Tesco test a range of produce for pesticide residues including fruit and vegetables, wheat products, rice, herbs, spices and tea. However, they don’t test meat, dairy or fish, unlike several other supermarkets. Tesco are one of only a few supermarkets who test their products specifically for glyphosate residues. When the company’s testing programme reveals an exceedance of a legal residue limit, Tesco told PAN UK that they work with the specific supplier to identify the reason for the high residues and train them in alternative, often non-chemical, methods of pest control.
Boosting organic sales
Tesco told PAN UK that they have an in-house organic range of almost 90 products, and sell a total of around 300 organic product lines in their stores. However, they reported that organic represents just 1.5% of sales. Tesco also told PAN UK that they are looking into expanding their organic range by up to 60 new products, and said that they are actively promoting organic ranges.
Supporting suppliers to use non-chemical alternatives
Tesco are developing a new benchmarking scheme which will allow their suppliers to compare pesticide use against each other. This should achieve two things. Firstly, it will highlight particular instances of unnecessarily high pesticide use. Secondly, it will enable suppliers to share best practice on reducing pesticide use. The company has also established grower groups which bring their suppliers together to discuss common issues, including non-chemical methods of pest control. Meanwhile, Tesco’s online ‘Supplier Network’ allows their suppliers and industry experts to share tips and advice on pesticide reduction, but falls short of making this information publicly available. While these are all good initiatives Tesco could be doing more. They do not currently provide training or guidance to farmers on how to adopt non-chemical methods of pest control, key measures for reducing pesticide use.
Phasing out the most hazardous pesticides
Tesco told PAN UK that it has 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. However, the company stated that it does not currently have lists of pesticides that it monitors, restricts or prohibits, though it does apparently have plans to create them. 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 . However, Tesco are failing to restrict or prohibit some hazardous pesticides, such as neonicotinoids which are extremely toxic to bees.
Engaging with customers on reducing pesticide use
Tesco told PAN UK that they are taking the following action to involve their customers in reducing pesticide use in their supply chains:
- Tesco 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, Tesco 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. But 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.
Reducing harm caused to bees and pollinators
Tesco told PAN UK that they have a range of measures in place to encourage and safeguard pollinators. For instance, they are working with local environmental experts to train farmers in pollinator-friendly practices such as planting wildflower strips. They also carry out assessments of the risks posed by specific pesticides to pollinators. If a risk assessment identifies that a pesticide has the potential to be particularly harmful for pollinators then they will restrict or prohibit its use. However, the company did add the significant caveat that they only do this “where possible”. Tesco does still allow the use of a number of pesticides which have been shown to be highly toxic to bees and other pollinators. These include neonicotinoids, Sulfoxaflor and Fipronil, which are all still permitted for use in the company’s global supply chains.
Being transparent about pesticides
Tesco should 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. Tesco has a page on its website which outlines its general approach to pesticides, but fails to provide much detail. Tesco does not publish its full pesticide policy or the results of its residue-testing programme.
Selling pesticide products
Not only do Tesco sell pesticides on their shelves, they also offer discounts and deals on them. This encourages shoppers to buy more than they need which often results in excess pesticides being poured down the sink or put in landfill, potentially contaminating 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”. Tesco make no effort to inform the public of the potential risks to human health and the environment associated to the pesticide products they sell, or how best to avoid them. In contrast to many other supermarkets, Tesco also don’t sell any non-chemical alternatives to pesticides.