Crop protection

Respect for all our suppliers

Farmers need to protect their crops against damage caused by weeds, pests and disease. However, some crop protection methods such as pesticides can have negative impacts on human health and the environment. Find out how Co-op supports the responsible application of these actions through our crop protection policy and encourages methods of production that reduce the impacts on environment and human health.

What is crop protection?

To protect crops, farmers use various techniques and chemical control methods.

Currently pesticide-based approaches (including herbicides, insecticides and fungicides) are the most commonly used. Other methods that may be used include crop rotation, biological controls such as predatory insects, or barrier approaches with agrotextiles and bird netting.

What is Co-op’s approach?

We believe that crop protection plays a role in food production but must be implemented responsibly. Our approach is to source ingredients in a way that reduces impacts on the environment and people and supports our restorative approach to landscapes with healthy ecosystems. Currently the reality is pesticide application plays a role in food production as the most common method of protecting crops from diseases, but we acknowledge the consequences pesticide use can have on the environment (such as biodiversity and soil health), as well as health impacts for the people involved in producing the food we eat.

As a result, we are looking at ways to encourage methods of production that involve integrated pest management (IPM) techniques. IPM is an approach to managing pests, diseases or weeds under which chemical pesticides are used only as a last resort, if at all.

We also sell an organic range of fresh produce.

Co-op’s Crop Protection Policy

In 2021, we published our updated Crop Protection Policy, aiming to encourage the most environmentally-considerate methods of production which also protect the health and wellbeing of the people handling Co-op products. We have two major focus areas:

  1. Supporting the wider uptake and use of IPM techniques across our supply base, using Co-op Crop Protection Groups to help share best practice with suppliers.
  2. Phasing out of Highly Hazardous Pesticides.

To find out more, read our policy in full here.

What action is Co-op taking to reduce pesticide residues in food?

We conduct random sampling of products from across the global supply chain in our residue testing programmes. A residue test is testing a food item for a variety of pesticide residues.

The results are shared with our suppliers and used to encourage good agricultural practice, understand where our priorities are for action on phasing out the most hazardous pesticides and where suppliers need more support. Suppliers also carry out their own testing.

We investigate all incidences where there is a breach of legally-defined maximum residue levels (MRL) and implement corrective actions.

Our data will be used to generate a risk assessed list of pesticides during 2021. For fresh produce, use of actives from restricted lists will require appropriate supplier risk assessment and the implementation of appropriate action plans to minimise the risks, and we will also hold prohibited lists.

Data Transparency

We’ve committed to increasing the transparency on crop protection and pesticide use.

Information we’ve published includes:

  • Data on pesticide residue
  • Information of initiatives supporting the reduction in Highly Hazardous Pesticides and promoting the use of IPM
  • Co-op’s Crop Protection Policy and details of progress made against our commitments.

View our 2020 Crop Protection and Pesticide Data Report here.

Additional 2020 data can be found here.

Lists of pesticides that are prohibited, monitored and restricted by Co-op will be published by the end of 2021.

Does Co-op sell pesticides?

As well as managing the impacts in our supply chain we also sell some products in our gardening range that may contain pesticides. In 2021, we committed to only selling organic, natural or benign crop protection pesticides. Low-risk pesticides include many natural pesticides and a small number of synthetic pesticides that are of low risk. Herbicides containing actives such as glyphosate will no longer be sold. We’re also changing the range of pet-care products sold in our stores, meaning that by the end of 2021 we will no longer sell products containing fipronil, which can be damaging to bees and other pollinators.

The standards we set

We require all our UK growers or suppliers of fresh produce to have a Red Tractor or Organic certification. Fresh, horticultural and frozen produce from outside the UK are produced to meet GLOBALGAP standards or equivalent. However, our policy goes beyond the requirements of these standards.

We encourage all other food categories to work towards a Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) certification standard for their ingredients.

Our Sound Sourcing Code of Conduct sets out the workplace and employment standards that we strenuously apply across our supply base, based on the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) Base Code and core international labour standards. To identify issues affecting workers in our supply chain and monitor pesticide and chemical use by workers, we run a global ethical audit monitoring programme which reaches up to 700,000 workers in 2,480 sites located in 72 countries across 6 continents in Co-op own-brand supply chains.

We were ranked 4th on Pesticide Action Network UK’s 2019 supermarket scorecard. In response, our new Crop protection policy incorporates many of their recommendations including more transparent reporting.