Magazine / June 2012

[Lobby] Why do we target supermarkets?

We don’t just campaign against pesticide use. Another of our key aims is get genetically-engineered (GE) food banned.

We don’t just campaign against pesticide use. Another of our key aims is get genetically-engineered (GE) food banned.

© Athit Perawongmetha / Greenpeace

Are you overwhelmed by the array of produce in your supermarket? How do you tell which products are really safe to eat?

What you can do?

How do you tell which products are really safe to eat? Like us, we know you are concerned about food safety and that’s why for many years now we have been lobbying supermarkets to stop selling food with dangerous pesticide residues or genetically-engineered (GE) ingredients.

Supermarkets have sway

Whenever we publish a report on our investigations into pesticide residues, we are always asked why do we only sample food sold in supermarkets? Should food sold in small stores and local markets need to be tested too? Let’s ask Kate Lin, Greenpeace campaigner, to explain why:

"Most people get their food from supermarkets and that’s why supermarkets have a fundamental responsibility to stock safe and healthy products over and above any legal requirements. There is already ample scientific evidence of the harmful effects of pesticide residues, so supermarkets must do their utmost to strictly monitor their produce for pesticides and ban the sale of vegetables and fruit that have been grown with highly toxic pesticides. They shouldn’t make their customers worry about whether the food they are buying is safe to eat or not. So we have been focusing our campaign on supermarkets in Hong Kong and the mainland to make urgent improvements."

"And this is a serious issue. Let me give you an example: On 4 April, 2011 we took 12 samples of loose rice from big supermarkets in Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Wuhan, Chengdu and Hangzhou. This was the first time we tested for pesticides on loose rice. The results were worrying."

Even traces are danger

"We found traces of pesticides on loose rice samples, even those that had been harvested several months ago and even up to a year. For Chinese people, rice is a staple food. Every day, families across mainland China and Hong Kong eat rice three times a day and each time they may be consuming small traces of toxic chemicals. Over a long period of time, it’s possible that it will have very serious health consequences, especially for young children."

"From our investigation we can clearly see that supermarkets have a serious responsibility. We also tested 50 samples of fruits and vegetables at the same time and found a cocktail of different pesticide residues on strawberries, water spinach, Chinese chives and others. The chemicals that showed up included carbendazim which is known to interfere with the human endocrine systems and several pesticides that have been banned in China. In fact, our results came out no better than in previous years, showing us that the pesticide problem is still serious and widespread."

So which supermarket is best?

"For the past three years in a row we have published our ‘Supermarket Ranking Guide’. Our hope is that the combination of our lobbying and consumer pressure will force all the big supermarkets to take on their responsibility towards food safety, ban the use of harmful pesticides and stop selling GE food. They can’t just be focused on what goes on inside the supermarket, they also have to look at what goes on in the field, what goes on all our dinner tables, and give all of us here in Hong Kong peace of mind about the food that goes in our shopping basket."

2012 New Momentum

We had a great start to the New Year. In February, the State Council released a draft proposal grain law that establishes legislation restricting research, field trials, production, sale, import and export of GE grain seeds. We have just begun rolling out our food safety campaign in Taiwan and the Pearl River Delta region, working towards a future when we can be confident that the food we prepare for our family is both healthy and safe.