Dutch supermarket residue campaign

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					       Pesticide residues                                                                                 Pesticides News 71        March 2006

    Dutch supermarket                                                                                 supermarket produced similar results sug-
                                                                                                      gesting that the small sample might provide
                                                                                                      a good picture of performance. Sourcing is
                                                                                                      increasingly concentrated with more and

    residue campaign                                                                                  more produce coming from a small number
                                                                                                      of big producers possibly explaining the
                                                                                                      rather uniform ‘quality’. This comparison
                                                                                                      of residue data among retail outlets is not
    Using print and online media to inform consumers about residue                                    currently published either by the Dutch
    issues, Dutch environmental groups are successfully campaigning for                               government or supermarkets themselves. In
                                                                                                      the celery tested (see table 1), the Dirk van
    supermarkets to reduce residue levels tolerated in fresh fruit and                                den Broek chain scored the worst of seven
    vegetables. Hans Muilerman reports on their strategy and progress.                                companies with 24 points, while the Albert
                                                                                                      Heijn samples were completely residue-
    Dutch environmental and consumer groups           Ranking residue contents                        free and scored zero penalty points. Plus
    first drew public attention to the serious        Every two to four months the campaigners        and Super de Boer chains were joint second
    risks to children from residues of neurotox-      choose a specific fruit or vegetable, pur-      with eight points each and Edah scored 21.
    ic pesticides in fresh produce with a major       chasing samples from five stores of each of     The website provides an overview table of
    report in 20001. However, subsequent letter-      the eight supermarket chains across the         all items sampled since 2003. Entries are
    writing efforts failed to persuade supermar-      country. This gives 30-40 samples, depend-      highlighted in red when a chain offered pro-
    kets to take residues seriously, indeed letters   ing on whether all supermarkets are selling     duce containing illegal pesticide residues.
    were often unanswered. Campaigners were           the selected item. Sampling strictly follows    The website also indicates the number of
    frustrated by a lack of published govern-         EU methodology and samples are analysed         organic products for sale from each compa-
    ment data on residues and on retail chains        for around 120 pesticide active ingredients     ny. While no one company consistently
    selling produce with excess residues. They        at a commercial laboratory.                     rates best, the two German-owned discount
    decided a different strategy was needed.              Each residue found is scored as follows:    stores Aldi and Lidl scored particularly
         Environmental organisations Natuur en        ● Residue below MRL = 1 penalty point           poorly in the first series of tests.
    Milieu (N&M), Milieudefensie (Friends of          ● Neurotoxic pesticide (organophosphate               Table grapes were found to be badly
    the Earth, Netherlands) and the consumer          and/or carbamate) = 2 penalty points            contaminated in 2003, especially grapes
    association Goede Waar & Co joined                ● Residue above MRL, or, of pesticide not       from Southern Europe, in which 60% of
    forces to increase public awareness and           authorised for use in NL = 4 points             samples exceeded MRLs and an average of
    exert pressure on supermarkets. Within the        ● Residue of pesticide not authorised for       seven different pesticides was found in
    Dutch supermarket sector there are a wide         use in NL, and, above MRL = 8 points            those samples containing residues.
    range of attitudes to pesticides. A small                                                         Brazilian and African-sourced grapes con-
    number are proactive in making improve-           Neurotoxic compounds score double as            tained fewer residues than Italian ones.
    ments regarding pesticide problems and            consumption of more than one may have               Testing in May 2005 revealed that sev-
    will engage constructively in dialogue. At        cumulative effects on the nervous system.       eral supermarket chains were selling straw-
    the other extreme are companies which             This concern is not currently addressed in      berries containing residues of unauthorised
    refuse to engage in dialogue. The largest         Dutch or EU risk assessment, unlike the US      pesticides. Endosulfan was found in Dutch-
    section, in the middle, wait to assess            which has tightened its assessment system       grown strawberries sampled from Aldi,
    changes in public attitudes and in regula-        to take account of risks posed by mixtures      even though it has been banned in the
    tions before deciding how to modify their         of neurotoxins in children’s diet3.             Netherlands since 1987. The fungicide
    practice. The NGOs aimed to generate pub-                                                         myclobutanil was found in samples from
    lic debate about the middle and bottom end        Presenting the results                          three supermarket chains despite having
    companies and to use a public platform to         The testing can only give a snapshot each       been withdrawn from Dutch use in 2000
    persuade companies to change. A key part          time and does not claim to be representa-       because of risks to aquatic ecosystems.
    of the strategy was to carry out independent      tive. However, most samples from one            Eighteen different pesticides in total were
    testing and assessment of residues in fruit
    and vegetables, a programme which was              Table 1. Residues in celery purchased in stores of Bas can der
    started in 2002, part funded by the Dutch          Heijden/Dirk van den Broek supermarket, sampled June 2004
    Environment Ministry.
                                                       Store location        Produce        Residues under       Residues above         Penalty
    Website resource                                   (street, town)        origin         MRL (ppm)            MRL (ppm)              points
    The main resource for the campaign is the           Vuldersbrink         Holland        0.28 piperonyl-                                1
    ‘Know What You’re Eating’ website2 which           (10/6) Harderwijk                    butoxide
    allows consumers to check how the eight
    largest supermarkets (in terms of market           Amsterdamseweg        Holland        0.28 piperonyl-                                3
    share in the Netherlands (NL)) rank in             (10/6)                               butoxide
    terms of residues. The website, which went         Amersfoort                           0.09 pirimicarb
    online in 2003, lists: key demands to super-       Pr. Mulderslaan   Holland            0.04 vinclozolin                               4
    markets and government; summaries of sci-          (11/6) Oudenbosch (Spain)*           (illegal in NL)
    entific research on health concerns; compa-
    ny, government agency and media                    Schoonhout            Holland                             0.07 vinclozolin          8
    responses to results; and updates on news          (11/6)                (Spain)*                            (over MRL,
    and policy responses. It provides practical        Etten Leur                                                illegal in NL)
    information on avoiding the most contami-          Zambesidreef          Holland                             0.09 vinclozolin          8
    nated fruit and vegetables. Links provide          (11/6)                (Spain)*                            (over MRL,
    contact information for all major supermar-        Utrecht                                                   illegal in NL)
    kets encouraging consumers to contact
    them directly. There are also links to retail      Total penalty score                                                                24
    outlets selling organic food.
                                                      *This produce was labeled Holland Class 1 although grown in Spain
   Pesticide residues                                                                                    Pesticides News 71         March 2006

found in these samples. Although maximum           duce labels or shelves and information on        pected. Aldi and Lidl discount supermar-
permitted levels were not exceeded, the aver-      production methods for each type of fresh        kets had the worst residue levels in the first
age number of residues increased, with six         produce in an easily accessible website.         sampling series, but due to public naming
different residues found in some samples               The key demands to government are:           and shaming and fear of court action, they
from three supermarkets, of particular con-        more transparency on residue data; ‘name         are now in discussions with the campaign;
cern where neurotoxic compounds with sim-          and shame’ company/location of stores            in fact N&M was the first organisation in
ilar modes of action may be consumed               with residues exceeding MRLs; better con-        NL to negotiate with Aldi, a company who
together. Eight of the pesticides found were       trols and tougher penalties for infringe-        refusd for years to talk to stakeholders. Aldi
either not permitted in Dutch strawberry pro-      ment; clear and honest responses to con-         have now introduced a strict monitoring
duction or in Dutch agriculture in general.        sumer requests for information on residues.      system and threaten suppliers with de-list-
Eleven of the 40 samples contained no                  The website encourages consumers to          ing for six months if they fail to comply. If
residues, showing that residue-free strawber-      demand supermarkets to make public their         they cannot be sure of compliance with the
ry production is possible. More transparency       test results, so that consumers can exercise     law both Aldi and Lidl sell organic prod-
on production methods used for this crop and       real choice. In 2004, 7,000 consumers con-       ucts, which they did several times over the
a supportive policy from government is             tacted the Minister for Agriculture to           last two years. In February 2005 Lidl
needed to encourage safer production.              demand transparency of food residue data.        announced that it would select suppliers
    The campaign’s testing shows that man-                                                          with fewer residue problems and stock a
darins are the most heavily contaminated of        Responses                                        much larger selection of organic produce.
all fresh produce on sale in Dutch super-                                                           The company decided to only stock organic
                                                   In the first phase of the campaign, super-
markets. Testing of mandarins in                                                                    grapes as no suppliers of conventionally
                                                   markets were very surprised and denied all
October/November 2005 (all sourced from                                                             grown grapes could deliver residue-free ones.
                                                   claims by N&M. Since there has been little
Spain) found an average of six residues per                                                              A report from the Health Council (scien-
                                                   government enforcement for years, the
contaminated sample with two stores of the                                                          tific advisors) advised the government to con-
                                                   topic of residues was not on the agenda of
supermarket C-1000 selling samples con-                                                             sider combination toxicity in risk assessment
                                                   supermarkets and most of them were not
taining 10 different pesticides. The average                                                        and to take preventative action to protect chil-
                                                   aware of it. Publishing the results of the
number of residues per sample has                                                                   dren and the unborn. The government is hesi-
                                                   analysis and ‘naming and shaming’ did not
increased since 2002/2003 when govern-                                                              tating on this but claims it will publish names
                                                   provoke too much reaction from individual
ment monitoring found an average of four.                                                           of companies exceeding MRLs.
                                                   supermarkets but the retailers’ association
The fungicide imazalil was found in all                                                                  Dutch trader organisation DPA, often
                                                   and the Dutch health ministry were very
samples, a systemic compound contained in                                                           blamed by the supermarkets for delivering
                                                   hostile. These last two have claimed for
the fruit flesh as well as peel. Imazalil is not                                                    contaminated produce, finally concluded that
                                                   decades that food is safe and saw these
only a serious skin and eye irritant but has                                                        the residue issue was not going to disappear.
                                                   claims threatened. The retailers’ association
also been linked to negative effects on                                                             They started talks with the NGOs on trans-
                                                   lobbied parliament to cut NGO funding.
development and possible carcinogenicity.                                                           parency (companies are forced by the EU
In one Aldi store it was found at 3.4mg/kg                                                          Food Directive to analyse their products from
when the WHO limit Acute Reference Dose            Campaign actions                                 2005 on) and on a new ‘dirty dozen’, a group
(ARfD) for consumption in one sitting is           The system in the Netherlands allows             of pesticides to be banned voluntarily.
0.05 mg/kg bodyweight. A toddler eating            NGOs much easier access to court than in              Another outcome of ‘Know What You’re
two of the contaminated Aldi mandarins             most other countries. N&M started lawsuits       Eating’, is N&M’s work to identify the most
would exceed the ARfD by 48%. The insec-           against those supermarkets who had               progressive supermarket in terms of crop
ticide chlorpyrifos was found in 39 of 40          exceeded MRLs. The cases never reached           management practice. No Dutch supermarket
samples. The government health agency has          court because the supermarkets started           is following the best possible Integrated Pest
previously raised concerns about children’s        negotiating. Agreements were signed with         Management practice, partly because supply
exposure to chlorpyrifos residues in food.         Laurus (second largest supermarket in NL),       comes through traders only interested in
    The website also presents information          Schuitema (third largest) and even the           obtaining produce at the lowest price. N&M
from the Dutch government residue moni-            German discounters, Aldi and Lidl. These         has now persuaded the Laurus supermarket
toring 2000-2002. Table 2 lists the fruit          agreements amounted to promises not to           chain to commit to holistic IPM and
found with most and least residues. Official       exceed MRLs (and to pay a penalty to             Integrated Crop Management and will imple-
data clearly shows that on average 21% of          N&M if they did), promises to analyse their      ment this on 10 pilot crops in 2006 season, for
imported fruit and vegetables exceed Dutch         own products and send a copy to the NGOs.        Dutch-grown and imported produce. They
MRLs, whereas only 5% of Dutch grown               A promise to only sell residue-free produce      will use protocols based on ecological princi-
produce exceed Dutch MRLs. Apples are the          could not be obtained through the courts.        ples for crop management, but which have not
exception as Dutch apples are more contam-             Naming and shaming together with the         been widely taken up by farmers for lack of
inated than imported ones. Campaign organ-         court strategy has changed the game by giv-      market incentives. This will be an exciting
isations recommend consumers to buy                ing NGOs a strong position and making            experiment to see if such an approach can
organic produce where possible or                  residues a media issue. Continuing to test and   succeed in the highly competitive world of
‘Milieukeur’, the Dutch label for reduced          negotiate with supermarkets should allow         mainstream farming and retail.
pesticide produce grown using more sustain-        further progress towards residue-free food.
able methods than conventional produce.                The results of four years of campaign-       References
                                                   ing have been satisfying and at times unex-      1. Luijk R and Schalk S (Consumentenbond) and
                                                                                                    Muilerman H (Natuur en Milieu), Have we lost our
Campaign demands                                   Table 2. Residues in fruit 2002/3                heads? Neurotoxic residues harmful to the developing
The campaign’s key demand to supermar-                                                              brain of our children, Utrecht, Netherlands, 2000.
kets is to ensure that only residue-free pro-         Most residues Least residues                  2. is in Dutch only
duce is sold. They argue that it is unaccept-         1. mandarins         1. Avocado               3. Pesticides in food - what’s the problem? PAN
able to sell contaminated fresh produce                                                             Europe Briefing No. 3, September 2004 www.pan-
                                                      2. lemons            2. Kiwi        
when even conventional farming can deliv-             3. grapefruit        3. Plums
er residue-free produce. The campaign
                                                      4. oranges           4. Passion fruit         Hans Muilerman works on sustainable pro-
urges companies to do more residue testing,
                                                      5. grapes            5. Mango                 duction and consumption at N&M in the
to exert more pressure on suppliers and to
                                                                                                    Netherlands and is on the PAN Europe Board,
ask suppliers to test produce too. It requests        6. currants          6. Blackcurrants
disclosure of country of origin on all pro-           7. apples            7. Cherries

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