RETAILERS ARE becoming increasingly responsive to consumer concerns about chemical residues in food, and the Co-op supermarket has told its suppliers worldwide to discontinue or phase out the use of almost 100 pesticides.

On the list of active ingredients, for which Co-op suppliers need written authorisation to use, are products familiar to UK growers.

Aldicarb and linuron, which are much used on potatoes, and carbendazim and chlorothalonil, widely used on cereals, all appear on Co-op”s hit lists.

The Co-op has involved experts, some of them members of the government”s Advisory Committee on Pesticides, to develop a pesticide assessment test. It categorises chemicals according to their toxicity and the potential health hazard they represent.

Kevin Barker, quality assurance manager for fresh and frozen produce for the Co-op, told farmers weekly that the retail industry is keen to remove what it considers to be the most hazardous products.

“We have already discussed our approach with Marks & Spencer, and I am sure other retailers too are working to restrict the use of some pesticides among their suppliers,” Mr Barker said.

Based on peer-reviewed, scientific evidence, often produced by the agrochemical industry itself, the Co-op”s group of experts has graded a large number of pesticides.

 “On that basis, we have drawn up lists stating which pesticides can be used without any particular controls, which need to be further monitored, and which products we want our suppliers to stop using,” Mr Barker said.

He emphasised that the Co-op was committed to working with industry to identify viable alternatives and provide advice through product advisory sheets.

“We have worked with Farmcare, our own farming business, as well as with suppliers, growers, pesticide producers and local governments around the world in drawing up the lists, and we will continue to work with our supplier base to seek full compliance at the earliest opportunity,” Mr Barker said.

Peter Sanguinetti, chief executive of the Crop Protection Association, said that as far as pesticides approved for use in the UK were concerned, the kind of initiative taken by the Co-op was not necessary on health grounds, since maximum residue levels in this country were set well below safety levels. He said the Food Standards Agency, the Pesticides Residue Committee and the Advisory Committee on Pesticides were all agreed on this.

“We have very high standards in the UK, and the consumer must be properly informed about the scientific facts,” Mr Sanguinetti said.