News 01.02.2024

Scorecard: Most supermarkets lack a coherent strategy to reduce pesticides

  • Pesticides
foodwatch [M], Heorshe/stock.adobe

Although most supermarkets make promises to work on protecting the environment, they lack a strategy to reduce pesticides. This is what a scorecard of the most relevant retail chains in Germany, France and the Netherlands reveals.

For the scorecard, foodwatch asked supermarket companies about their stragies towards reducing pesticides and their offer of organic and pesticide-free products. The responses differ significantly: While some supermarkets claim to have data on pesticide residues in fruit and vegetables, they do not have information on the pesticide use to produce grain products like bread, oats, and flour – even though approximately 50 percent of Europe’s arable land is dedicated to cultivating cereals like wheat and maize for bread and flour products. 

Many supermarkets pride themselves in having reduced pesticide residue levels in fruits and vegetables. But there has been little change in the total amount of pesticides sprayed on the fields. 

Aldi, Spar and Vomar rank the lowest

The three supermarkets ranked lowest are Aldi, Spar and Vomar from the Netherlands. They have no strategy to reduce pesticides, neither in the production of fruits and vegetables nor cereals. Furthermore, these supermarkets do not offer few, if any, organic or pesticide-free fruits and vegetables.

With sustainability labels and green advertising, supermarkets make the public believe they are tackling the biodiversity crisis. But when it comes to action, almost no retail company lives up to these promises.
Annemarie Botzki foodwatch International

Migros, Tegut and Alert Hejn rank the highest

The three winners of the scorecard are Migros from Switzerland, Tegut from Germany, and Albert Hejn from the Netherlands. Migros is a forerunner in reducing pesticides in grain production, Tegut offers many organic products, especially cereals, and Albert Heijn has an exceptional high amount of data on pesticide use by its farmers. The approach of these companies could become an example for retailers across Europe to track and end pesticide use.  The details are shown in the scorecard.

Scorecard: Pesticide-free grain

Migros is the only supermarket assessed with a comprehensive strategy for reducing the use of pesticides in grain cultivation. The retailer fulfills all three criteria for a green classification in the category "Strategy for reducing the use of pesticides in grain products." Through its procurement policy, Migros aims to expand the range of pesticide-free products. Additionally, Migros provides pesticide-free products in every grain category (e.g., bread, muesli, and baked goods). The company also supports farmers in transitioning from conventional to pesticide-free methods. One of Migros' goals is to decrease the use of pesticides in conventional food production. By 2030 at the latest, the retailer aims to exclusively offer products that were produced without the use of pesticides.

Tegut currently lacks a specific strategy aimed at reducing the use of pesticides. Nevertheless, the organic share of fruit and vegetables is noteworthy, accounting for 51.4%, and for bread and baked goods, it stands at 43%. In an effort to further enhance the presence of organic products in its offerings, Tegut has introduced two product divisions: "Organic Vegan" and "Organic at a Low Price." The latter focuses on providing organic products at more affordable prices. It is important to highlight that the supermarket exclusively utilizes organic wheat in its own baking stations, and all bread produced under the private label "Herzberger" is guaranteed to be 100%.

Albert Heijn uses an online tool to track pesticide use among its Dutch farmers, with 95% compliance. This data allows environmental impact calculations, but the supermarket is not sharing it publicly. The focus is solely on Dutch farmers, excluding those from other countries. Albert Heijn emphasizes a broad selection of organic products, with plans for expansion, and employs various strategies to actively encourage customers to choose organic options.

Jumbo declared it is enhancing the sustainability of its supply chain, with a focus on expanding its range of organic products by either adding new items or substituting conventional products with organic alternatives. Notably, all centrally purchased Dutch fruits and vegetables at Jumbo are certified under the "On the Way to PlanetProof" label. While this certification restricts certain pesticides and conditions the use of other products to minimize environmental impact, it does not guarantee pesticide-free products, and specific data on pesticide usage is not available. Jumbo features a diverse selection of organic fruits, vegetables, and grain products.

Carrefour monitors the use of synthetic pesticides in the crops of its own brands. In comparison with national data in agricultural sectors from today, Carrefour stated to have been able to reduce the use of pesticides by an average of 50%. The retailer, however, doesn't own data on pesticide use other than its own brands. Carrefour also supports producers in the process of converting to organic farming through a long-term contract, lasting 3 to 5 years, which secures the farmers' investments via intermediate pricing between conventional and organic. At the end of 2022, 1,247 references of Carrefour Bio branded products were sold in France (Carrefour Bio, Nectar of Bio, Carrefour Baby Bio). Overall, the supermarket is close to a green classification in the category of fruits and vegetables. But neither the offer nor the procurement policy focuses on pesticide-free production.

Intermarché has designed a strategy to reduce pesticides in grain products. It has, however, only presented a plan to a consultation committee with the company's stakeholders. No further details are public, yet. With respect to fruit and vegetables, Intermarché is a step further: Already in 2017, the retailer has put in place a strategy of how to reduce pesticides in the primary production. Its objective is to eliminate the most dangerous active substances for health or the environment through finding alternative solutions, such as optimizing crop rotation, natural pest predators and mechanical controls. Intermarché offers mostly fruit and vegetables with the label "Zero Pesticide Residues". Intermarché's market share of organic products has grown steadily since the end of 2018, rising from 13% to 15.1%.

Edeka does not have a strategy to reduce pesticides in grain production. The retailer only has a concrete strategy for reducing the use of pesticides for citrus fruits, i.e. lemons, oranges or limes. In collaboration with the environmental organization WWF, Edeka wants to ban particularly toxic pesticides. The retail chain also requires its citrus fruit suppliers to use fewer pesticides. According to Edeka, farmers participating in the citrus project have reduced the use of pesticides in primary production by 76% since 2015. Edeka also wants to reduce the use of pesticides in banana cultivation with a similar program.

Rewe lacks a specific strategy to reduce the use of pesticides.  However, Rewe's own organic brand (Rewe Bio) includes around 800 items. It remains unclear how high the organic proportion of the overall range is. The “Rewe pioneers” concept is intended to be an incentive for farmers switching to organic production.

Lidl Germany lacks a specific plan to decrease the use of pesticides in grain production. Although the retailer has established an expert panel to address particular pesticides, the primary emphasis is on monitoring residue levels rather than implementing an overarching reduction strategy for pesticide use. Lidl does provide a diverse range of organic products, including 400 options within grain categories. Currently, the permanent assortment has an 8% share of organic products.

Aldi Süd does not have a specific strategy to reduce the use of pesticides and also lacks data on the pesticides use on the fields. The discounter had around 550 organic products in its range in 2022, which, according to the retailer, corresponds to an organic share of around 15 percent (excluding special and seasonal products). In 2023, Aldi Süd started a strategic partnership with the organic association Naturland.

Plus and Coop lacks a coherent strategy to reduce pesticide use. The supermarkets aim at increasing their organic offer though. In 2021, Plus set itself a target to double the organic offer in three years. The annual report 2022 mentions an 8% growth in sales of organic products. However, it remains unclear what the share in the entire range is. Also, a comparison with 2021 is not possible as this annual report does not entail the equivalent data. The supermarkets do offer some products with the label On the Way to PlanetProof, however neither does that mean the products are pesticide-free nor do we have exact data about the amount of pesticide used in the production.

Super U refers to agroecology and the certification "High Environmental Value" (HVE) as strategies to reduce its use of pesticides. The supermarket's objective is to offer 100% HVE-certified fruits and vegetables by 2030. However, the retailer does not share data on the amount of pesticides that is actually reduced. The supermarket offers no pesticide-free products, besides its organic offer. 8.5% of the brand's total food and drink portfolio is organic. The supermarket offers farmers a transition programme.

DekaMarkt claims to have a procurement policy aiming at increasing the organic share. The company explores which conventional products can be replaced by organic ones.

Lidl France has no clear strategy on grains. But similarly to Edeka in Germany, Lidl France has a strategy to reduce the use of pesticides in certain fruits and vegetables. Each of the supermarket's suppliers for those products must define a pesticide reduction action plan. However, the supermarket's goal is not to offer a 100% pesticide-free produced products. Even though the protection of biodiversity presents "a high priority for Lidl", its goal is only the cultivation of fruits and vegetables without residues. Yet, for the protection of biodiversity, particularly the pesticide use in the primary production is important, not the residues. The supermarket has some specific data on the use of pesticides for those fruits and vegetables that are part of the strategy, but no comprehensive data.

Casino-Monoprix has no specififc strategy for reducing the use of pesticides in grain products. In the category of fruits and vegetables, the retailer offers many products that are either organic or "guaranteed without quantified pesticide residues". Several other French supermarkets do the same. However, this classification should not be confused with "pesticide-free". Instead, those products solely do not contain high amounts of pesticide residues after harvesting. Casino-Monoprix states that 100% of fruits and vegetables from its own brand would be either organic or "guaranteed without quantified pesticide residues".

ACDLec has no explicit strategy for reducing the use of pesticides in grain products, but supports farmers to convert to organic production, including wheat farmers. The supermarket states that during the 2022 season, 38 wheat farmers were converting to organic. With respect to fruits and vegetables, the supermarket is willing to decrease the use of highly dangerous pesticides, but the rules for producers to achieve that goal are not binding.

The answers of Lidl Netherlands were very much focused on decreasing residues on fruit and vegetables. On their website they claim to aim at increasing the organic offer of fruit and vegetables and promote these products more. All Dutch fruit and vegetables products carry the label On the Way to PlanetProof. Within this programme, some legally permitted crop protection products are not allowed and the use of other products is subject to conditions in order to reduce the environmental impact. However, neither does that mean the products are pesticide-free, nor do we have exact data about the amount of pesticide used in the production. Among cereal products, the supermarket offers organic bread. Lidl, as most supermarkets, has data on the occurrence of residues, but no data on the use of pesticides in primary production.

Dirk has no strategy to reduce pesticide in the food production. In contrast to many other supermarkets, Dirk stated to have insight into what pesticides are used in the primary production by their suppliers. However, the supermarket is not willing to share this information with foodwatch.

Vomar claims that its purchasing policy is to offer an organic alternative in every product category. However, the supermarket does not present a particular strategy to reduce the use of pesticides, not even in the sector fruits and vegetables. They don't have a goal nor a plan to increase the offer of organic. Vomar is one of three supermarkets that has its own bakery, which also offers organic breads. However, the vast majority of breads baked here are not organic.

Spar offers no strategy to reduce the use of pesticides, not even for the sector of fruits and vegetables. The supermarket further offers no fruits and vegetables in organic quality. It does offer some products with the label On the Way to PlanetProof, however neither does that mean the products are pesticide-free nor do we have exact data about the amount of pesticide used in the production.

The difference between Aldi in Germany and Aldi in the Netherlands is remarkable. While Aldi in Germany is one of the largest sellers of organic products, Aldi in the Netherlands has only a very limited offer: potatoes and red beet are the only choices when it comes to fruit and vegetables. Aldi does offer fruits and vegetables with the label On the Way to PlanetProof, as several other supermarkets do. However, as the use of pesticides in primary production is still allowed for products with this label, the fruits and vegetables are not pesticide-free.

Supermarkets: Sell bread, flour and muesli without pesticides!

One third of cereal grain products in Europe are contaminated with pesticide residues, foodwatch has shown in its latest report “The Dark Side of Grain”. A transition to a pesticide-free production of grains and cereals would be relatively easy and would be crucial for biodiversity, climate protection and soil quality.

foodwatch demands that supermarkets:

  1. Commit to making the entire range of cereal and grain products pesticide-free.  
  2.  Implement a procurement policy prioritizing “pesticide-free” grain products, with a sound transition plan for farmers, assuring to pay them fair prices .
  3. Ensure transparency throughout the process by annually publishing data indicating which products are produced pesticide-free and which are not.  

More than 70.000 people have already signed our petition and asked their supermarkets to „Stop the toxic harvest!“ Become part of the our protest and sign the petition!

Supermarkets: Stop the toxic harvest!

 On half of Europe's land grains are grown, but many are soaked with chemicals, endangering insects and plants and leaving pesticide residues in our food. Despite their "eco-friendly" promises, most supermarkets don't have a policy against toxic grains. Demand toxin-free grains!

sign the petition