The lack of transparency around pesticide use means that UK shoppers are largely kept in the dark about which chemicals are used to grow our food, and which of those we ingest as residues.
In fact, some UK supermarkets have become less transparent over the past decade with regards to pesticides. For example, Co-op used to publish the lists of which pesticides they ban, restrict or monitor in their supply chains but no longer do so. M&S are currently the only supermarket doing this. A couple of supermarkets also used to make publicly available the results of their in-house programmes which test for pesticide residues in the food they sell. Currently, not a single UK supermarket publishes this data. While some supermarkets do publish their pesticide policy, this is far from the industry standard and many supermarkets will have no publically available information on pesticides.
This lack of transparency also applies to positive actions that supermarkets are taking to reduce pesticide use. For example, a number of supermarkets have created mechanisms to enable their suppliers to share examples of best practice so they can learn from each other’s experiences of reducing pesticide use. However, this information is often not shared publicly. This holds back the entire sector which could be moving forward together to reduce pesticide-related harms.
While some of this secrecy is motivated by ‘commercial confidentiality’, actually a larger driver seems to be that some supermarkets simply don’t want to talk about pesticides because the topic worries their customers. However, shoppers’ attention on how their food is produced has grown hugely in the past few years and continues to rise. The situation where supermarkets can just keep quiet and avoid scrutiny on pesticides in their supply chain is no longer viable. In fact, pesticides have never been so unpopular and talking about the work they are doing to reduce use could be an excellent boost to a supermarket’s ethical credentials.
Until supermarkets choose to become more open, the issue of pesticides remains largely hidden from the general public. A concerned shopper trying to find out what chemicals they and their family are exposed to currently has almost nowhere to go. The information cannot be found on food labels or on the website of their supermarket.