organic aisle shelf supermarket veg pesticides fruit fresh produce

Following the stark news that many common UK food items contain potentially harmful pesticides, at what point as a society do we need to fire into action on organic?

For far too long it has been seen a niche food group, rather than the key to unlocking a new kind of food system. Now we know per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are lingering in supermarket produce, it’s time for more food businesses and farmers to monitor their pesticide use – urgently.

We know the use of synthetic chemical pesticides as part of the conventional farming model leads to dire consequences for biodiversity, from mass species loss and pollution to soil erosion. Not to mention the impact on human health.

The alternative is organic farming, widely recognised for its unmistakable benefits on the environment. It protects wildlife habitats, improves land longevity, increases species variety by 30% overall, and reduces the pressure on biodiversity.

It’s important for the food sector to be aware of the damage harmful pesticides can have on biodiversity. By measuring their pesticide footprint, in the same way as they report on carbon or any other environmental pollutant, businesses can keep track and reduce their impact.

Back in 2022, Ecotone unveiled the first-of-its-kind Avoided Pesticide Index across Europe – a tool that allows businesses to track their chemical pesticide footprint, allowing them to put plans in place to make reductions. In its first year, 150 organisations requested additional data to measure their pesticide use.

We then launched a pesticide footprint calculator to help consumers understand the levels of the harmful chemicals found in everyday food items across Europe. Our aim is to encourage shoppers to make informed choices, and understand the impact of these choices – all while protecting biodiversity. Within a year, the website had 400,000 visits, accounting for 1,000 clicks each day.

With climate concerns at a high, too, we know consumers are increasingly interested in organic. Organic in the UK makes up approximately 1.2% of total food and drink volume (Kantar, 2022) with lots of opportunities for growth.

However, the term organic remains ambiguous to many. For us, it is indisputable that we need a government-first approach to help make organic food the norm and establish a future for a more sustainable food system.

To start with, I’d like to see government set fair trade tariffs that support organic rather than hindering it. On a wider scale, I would urge the government to hold businesses to account and recognise mission-led businesses in UK law. This is something the Better Business Act is trying to achieve, which we wholly support as a business.

And we don’t look at organic in isolation. We consider it alongside the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle and alternative ingredients – two further critical components for a sustainable future of food.

Following Covid, Brexit, industry-wide supply issues, and the cost of living crisis, choosing healthier and sustainable options is by no means easy. However, it’s important that we balance profit with making decisions that are better for people and the planet. Doing the right thing isn’t always the easiest choice, but it’s important to strive for.

This is why we implore a ‘what you can’ stance, encouraging our consumers to choose organic where possible. This could just be one small swap in their supermarket shop that becomes a habit over time.

Retailers can help shoppers make these choices by dedicating more shelf space to organic products and support organic brands. In an ideal world, there would be a permanent fixture for organic products in stores, but until that time I’d love to see more retailers getting involved in Organic September to build greater awareness.

Choosing organic means avoiding harmful pesticides and, in turn, protecting vulnerable ecosystems. It is fundamentally a planet-friendly choice. And with the food industry on the frontline of change, we can’t rest on our laurels. Consumers need better choices available to them and they deserve the transparency organic provides.