Waitrose came second in the supermarket ranking and were found to be ‘making good progress’ overall.
Compared to other supermarkets, they have a particularly extensive policy on reducing harms caused to bees and other pollinators. In addition, their efforts to support suppliers to reduce pesticide use were ranked as ‘outstanding’. However, they could be more open about pesticides in their supply chains and so scored poorly on transparency. Like all other UK supermarkets, Waitrose could be doing more to reduce pesticide-related harms in their global supply chains.
Supporting suppliers to use non-chemical alternatives
Waitrose told PAN UK that they are taking a wide range of measures to help their farmers adopt and stick to non-chemical methods of pest control. For instance, they organise forums for growers to meet and discuss non-chemical farming techniques, which means that good practice will spread from farm to farm. The company also funds and conducts research and educational activities with a range of UK universities and organisations looking at non-chemical alternatives to pesticides and sustainable agriculture more broadly. Unlike some other supermarkets, Waitrose publishes the results of these various initiatives – including examples of best practice – through various platforms which are available to the general public and farmers outside of their supply chains. This provides other farmers and retailers with tips and advice on how to reduce pesticide use.
Reducing harm caused to bees and pollinators
Waitrose have a ‘Seven Point Plan on Pollinators’ which includes: restricting bee-harming pesticides; supporting research on the effect of pesticides on pollinators and alternative non-chemical practices; ensuring that their suppliers monitor pollinator activity and promoting sustainable farming through their organic range. Waitrose told PAN UK that all their UK farms are certified by LEAF, a UK organisation aimed at “…delivering more sustainable food and farming” which does provide guidance to farmers on how to protect pollinators. Waitrose also don’t allow their suppliers to use bee-toxic neonicotinoids “…unless a valid justification presented, detailed risk analysis and elimination plans have been drawn up and agreed with Waitrose”. However, the company 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 Sulfoxaflor and Flupyradifurone which are relatively new. However, Waitrose told PAN UK that use of these chemicals by their suppliers remains low and that they will be assessing their impact “in due course”.
Monitoring and reducing pesticide residues in food
Waitrose test fruit and vegetables, wheat products, rice and dairy for pesticide residues. However, they do not test meat or fish. When PAN UK asked Waitrose about this they responded that they receive information on emerging issues but, as yet, “there have been no serious food safety issues raised on pesticides in meat and fish”. They will continue to monitor the situation and adapt their testing programme should future issues arise. Unlike some other supermarkets, they do test their products specifically for residues of glyphosate. When Waitrose’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. Waitrose told PAN UK that this can include encouraging their suppliers to adopt non-chemical alternatives to reduce residues.
Phasing out the most hazardous pesticides
Waitrose has a set of criteria in place 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. 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 . Their pesticide lists are constantly under review and they told PAN UK that they “…always look to incorporate the latest scientific research and advice”. However, while Waitrose are doing better than most UK supermarkets in this area, they are still 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
Waitrose 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, Waitrose are making sure to explain that this may be because their suppliers are using less pesticides.
- Waitrose promote fruit and vegetables that aren’t perfect through their ‘Little Less than Perfect’ range and make considerable efforts to buy crops that are not ‘perfect’ from suppliers, 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.
Boosting organic sales
Waitrose’ market share of organic retail sales in the UK is around 23%, according to the Soil Association (in contrast to just 5% of total grocery sales). Waitrose told PAN UK that they have the biggest own-brand organic range in the UK (Duchy Organic), and that they actively promote their organic ranges. They also told PAN UK that they are proactively looking to increase the number of organic items that they sell.
Being transparent about pesticides
Waitrose could be 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. The company doesn’t publish the results of its in-house residue testing programme or its pesticide policy, although the latter is available upon request. Unlike the majority of supermarkets, Waitrose did provide PAN UK with the lists of pesticides that they ban, restrict and monitor, however they do not make this publicly available at present. The company does have a comprehensive website dedicated to promoting their sustainable farming initiatives, which provides their customers with more information on their efforts to reduce pesticide use than most other supermarkets.
Selling pesticide products
Waitrose continue to sell pesticides on their shelves and do not provide information to customers on the potential risks to human health and the environment or how best to avoid them. They also offer discounts and deals on pesticide products which encourages shoppers to buy more than they need. Excess pesticides are often poured down the sink or put 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”. However, in other aspects Waitrose are leading the way. They stopped selling products containing neonicotinoids before they were banned by the EU and no longer sell glyphosate-based products. Like a handful of other supermarkets, Waitrose also sells non-chemical alternatives to pesticides, although could do more to promote them.