Press Release

Supermarket ranking on biodiversity: Do Lidl, Carrefour, Albert Heijn keep their promises?

foodwatch calls on clear strategy to reduce pesticide use

foodwatch has criticised supermarkets across Europe for doing too little to reduce the use of pesticides in the production of cereals, fruits or vegetables. Although most companies make promises to work on protecting the environment and the planet’s biodiversity, the use of pesticides in the EU is still alarmingly high, foodwatch says. A scorecard of the most relevant retail chains in Germany, France and the Netherlands, published by foodwatch today, reveals: Most supermarkets lack a coherent strategy to reduce pesticides. The international consumer organisation called on the companies to make their entire range of cereal and grain products pesticide-free. 

“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 their promises,” says Annemarie Botzki from foodwatch International.  

For the scorecard, foodwatch asked the companies about their strategies towards reducing pesticides and their offer of organic or pesticide-free products. The responses by the supermarket 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% of Europe’s arable land is dedicated to cultivating cereals like wheat and maize for bread and flour products. Wheat and barley alone account for 45% of pesticide use in Germany. 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. 

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. 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, foodwatch says.  

"Food retailers already have the right tools to exit pesticides: One supermarket has comprehensive data on pesticide use, another has a coherent procurement policy, and another one has a wide offer of pesticide-free products. The key to success is to take all these measures together and move away from pesticide farming,” Annemarie Botzki says.

foodwatch welcomes the strategy of food retailers to include more organic products in their product ranges. However, this alone is not enough. Consumers in all price segments should be able to find products that have been produced without the use of pesticides. For foodwatch this is the only way to guarantee healthy food and make an effective contribution to preserving biodiversity and protecting groundwater. 

The massive use of pesticide in food production burdens consumers in three ways, foodwatch criticises. Firstly, with the actual price for the products at the supermarket checkout, second, with their tax money for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and third, with hidden environmental costs caused by excessive pesticide use. "It's time to rethink the price we pay for a system that's a burden to our wallets, our planet, and our well-being," Annemarie Botzki from foodwatch International says. 

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.  

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 says.