What Pesticides are In Your Pantry?

What's in the food you bring home from the grocery store? That's a good question. And not easily answered.

Over one billion pounds of conventional pesticides are used in the U.S. every year. Over the last 60 years we have become dependent on pesticide use in agriculture. That use is affecting people, animals, and the environment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found pesticide residues in the bodies of 90 percent of the Americans studied.

A report by As You Sow titled, Pesticides in the Pantry: Transparency & Risk in Food Supply looks at 14 major U.S. food manufacturers on toxic pesticides. How do the companies whose food products you purchase stack up? Keep reading to find out.

The good, the bad, and the needs improvement

As You Sow scored the 14 companies on 30 different performance indicators. The total possible score a company could achieve was 30, and scores ranged from 18 to zero, with companies averaging a score of 6.1. Only two companies scored over 10: General Mills (18) and PepsiCo (14). The companies at the bottom were Post and B&G Foods with scores of zero, and Kraft, Heinz, Conagra, and J.M. Smucker each earned scores of two.

Within specific areas, some of the companies did better than others. When it comes to policies to reduce the use of pesticides in supply chains, only three companies explicitly address the use of synthetic pesticides in their supply chains: Del Monte, General Mills, and PepsiCo. However, only two of those companies provided evidence that they measure the effectiveness of their company’s strategies in some way: Del Monte and General Mills.

Almost all companies scored had some kind of sustainable agricultural program for their supply chains. Two of the companies do not: Post and B&G Foods. Of the companies that have one in place, three mention a sustainable agriculture program, but do have have detailed information to define sustainable agriculture or what guidelines, principles, and goals are used in the program: Conagra, Kraft Heinz, and J.M. Smucker. Nestlé stands out with its Responsible Sourcing Standard for suppliers as being comprehensive and detailed.

The World Health Organization labels glyphosate a probable carcinogen and the state of California lists it as a cancer causing chemical, but only one company (Kellogg) asks its farmers if they use glyphosate. The company surveyed its suppliers and asked two questions regarding glyphosate use in its annual grower survey.

Integrated pest management is defined by the University of California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources program as “an ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on long-term prevention of pests or their damage through a combination of techniques such as biological control, habitat manipulation, modification of cultural practices, and use of resistant varieties.” Six companies cited IPM as a strategy used in their supply chains, but only PepsiCo requires that its suppliers adopt the program. However, the company does not offer any mechanism to ensure its suppliers comply. 

Regenerative agriculture is “an approach to agriculture which focuses on improving and revitalizing soil health,” according to Green America. General Mills is the only company surveyed that has used a regenerative agriculture program in place. The report commends the company’s program for clearly outlining goals, principles, and guidelines that participating suppliers are expected to follow. 

What companies, policy makers, and investors can do

Companies, policy makers, and investors all have a role to play in reducing pesticide use in the U.S. Companies need to consider the risks associated with pesticides and take steps to reduce use among their suppliers. The report recommends companies take the following steps to reduce pesticide use:

  • Publicly commit to reducing pesticide use in agricultural supply chains.
  • Outline strategies to reduce pesticide use.
  • Clarify sustainable sourcing goals to incorporate pesticide use reduction.
  • Invest in agricultural methods that both limit and eliminate pesticide use.

Investors can use their power to push corporations to promote sustainable business practices to encourage companies to invest in strategies which reduce pesticide use. Policymakers can enact policies to regulate pesticide use. To do so, they need to use the precautionary principle which considers a new chemical potentially harmful and scientists prove otherwise.

What you can do

As a consumer, you can vote with your wallet. You can choose companies that rank higher in As You Sow’s report, and you can let food companies know that you want them to reduce pesticide use. Interact with companies on social media. Make your voice heard.

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Andrew Burger
EditorAndrew Burger
Gina-Marie Cheeseman
EditorGina-Marie Cheeseman
Emily Folk
EditorEmily Folk
Gina-Marie Cheeseman
EditorGina-Marie Cheeseman