5p plastic bag tax has been effective

Retailers in England moaned about having to charge customers 5p for single-use plastic bags and the government dragged its feet.

P1030059The good news is that since introducing the tax the number of bags in use has fallen by 85% or six billion.

That’s a lot of bags, almost 100 for every one in the UK.

The money raised by the tax goes to charitable causes. Most are environmental projects but some supermarkets have committed to help dementia research at UCL.

Some supermarkets give all the money less VAT to to charity while others make deductions

Overall the scheme has succeeded in producing benefits to wild life and the environment.

England might have come late to the party – long after countries like Denmark, Brazil, China, Mexico, Morocco, sub-saharan African states, Ireland, Wales and Scotland  – but it made good in the end.

Now let’s tackle plastic micro-beads!

Tesco threatens to ban John West Tuna because of its destructive fishing methods

S1032717Last October I posted the blog below under the heading “John West Tuna. Not what it says on the tin”.

Now Tesco has said it will ban John West tuna (apparently Britain’s most popular brand) unless it stops its detractive fishing practices – which I described in my earlier post.

Tesco is the first big supermarket to pledge to sell tuna caught only using sustainable methods (although Marks & Spencer doesn’t sell it on ethical grounds).

Most retailers including Tesco have banned the use of fish aggregation devices (FADs)  for their own-brand tuna preferring “pole and line” methods but still sell brands such as John West and Princes which refuse to commit to stop using FADs.

A Tesco spokesperson said it had decided to apply the same sustainable standards to all the tuna it sold.Tesco will allow brands sufficient time to meet these requirement but expect their plans to be ambitious, credible and publicly communicated”

Greenpeace said “Supermarkets have a responsibility for what’s on their shelves and not just what’s in their own-brand products so it’s great to see Tesco taking that seriously.”

John West’s response was “John West shares Tesco’s aspiration to increase the level of sustainable tuna available to consumers and, like Tesco, we recognise Marine Stewardship Council accreditation’s the best guarantee of sustainability. Our goal is that by 2018 all our seafood will be either MSC or Aquaculture Stewardship Council certified or engaged in an improvement project to bring up these standards

Well we’ll see. John West is owned by a Thai company which has been heavily criticised by both the USA and the EU. Do they worry about having the standards we expect of major corporations? I don’t think so but if they sense that they could lose market share or it will affect the bottom line then they might, reluctantly, take action.

Original post ———————–

John West, Britain’s biggest tuna supplier, has broken its promise that by the end of 2014 it would catch at least half of its British tuna by the pole-and-line method, a sustainable technique which reduces the risk of trapping other species in nets. It also said that by 2017 100% of its tuna would be caught by this sustainable method

In addition it promised to make every tin traceable (by tracking a bar code on each tin).

When it made the promise back in 2011 it said it wanted customers to have that information “because food safety and transparency is paramount to confidence“.

John West is actually owned by Thai Union Frozen which has secretly abandoned a commitment to stop using fishing methods which ensnare sharks and turtles. There is no information on the cans that tells customers how the fish are caught.

The EU isn’t happy with Thailand and issued a yellow card warning over illegal fishing and threatened to ban imports from the country unless it took swift action to improve “monitoring, control, and sanctioning systems“.

The Times had investigated the false claim and was told that John West “was amending the website copy to encourage anyone with a can of Thai tuna to e-mail us; we will then be able to provide full traceability details in a response e-mail”. The inability to trace the tins was merely a website limitation apparently!

Greenpeace says the Thai fishing industry has come in for a lot of criticism about fishing practices, labour rights, and human rights abuses – from both the EU and the USA.

And now celebrities such as Greta Scaachi and Gillian Anderson have joined in the criticism and called for a boycott unless the company reinstates its commitment to non-destructive fishing. The fish aggregation devices used attract sharks and turtles as well as other endangered species.

In response John West claims that more than 20% of its catch is by the sustainable pole-and-line method but most of that goes into supermarket own-brand tins.

A Greenpeace survey found only 2% of John West branded tins claimed to contain tuna caught by this method. John West said that labels on its tins declaring them safe for dolphins were regulated by the Earth Island Institute which it described as an internationally recognised NGO.

Of all the supermarkets only Marks and Spencer doesn’t stock John West tuna saying its does’t meet its ethical standards.

Tesco Superheroes raising money for good causes

I’ve criticised Tesco often enough about their business practices and even wondered about their CEO’s comments that selling “wonky vegetables” (as do other supermarkets) isn’t about appealing to people. But fair enough and they are giving any leftover food to a charity.

At my local branch in Burnley they raised £30,000 for charities last year and here they are with Community Champion Billie getting dressed up again (she loves her wigs) with some colleagues raising money for Diabetes UK on this occasion (although they also support the British Hearty Foundation.)


How well does your supermarket treat its suppliers?

custom_text_delivery_truck_13837Tesco, Iceland, and Morrisons are the worst of the big supermarkets when it comes to dealing with their suppliers.

That’s according to a confidential survey carried out for the Groceries Code Adjudictor.

Aldi, Waitrose , and Marks and Spencer received top marks for adhering to best practice on things like prompt payment and handling complaints.

The survey report describes a culture of fear among suppliers many of whom feel they have to accept bullying tactics from supermarket buyers for fear of retribution.

Overall  last year 70% of suppliers had been treated in ways that breached the industry’s code, a drop from 79% the previous year.

Almost 10% more, at 47%, were willing to complain about issues like late payments, having to pay over the odds for packaging specified by the supermarket, demands for lump sums, and penalties for trivial complaints from shoppers.

There is a slow a problem with what is called “drop and drive” where suppliers’ consignments aren’t receipted properly leading to disputes over payment.

The majority don’t complain because they fear retribution and don’t have the confidence that the adjudicator will maintain confidentiality.

The industry adjudicator, Christine Tacon, can levy fines of up to 1% of UK turnover. Her first target was Tesco where it was found that they had booked millions of pounds profit  for in-store marketing and seasonal promotions and which led to a Serious Fraud Office investigation.

The Times asked supermarkets for a response.

Tesco said “Suppliers are at the heart of our business and we’ve been working with them to change the way in which we work together“.

Morrisons said “We are listening to the information from the survey although we don’t believe it reflects the generally positive nature of our relationships with our suppliers”.

Iceland declined to comment.

Suppliers who say supermarkets fail to meet code of conduct (YouGov survey)

  1. Tesco 39%
  2. Iceland 30%
  3. Morrisons 30%
  4. Co-op 25%
  5. Asda 15%
  6. Waitrose 12%
  7. Lidl 11%
  8. M & S 10%
  9. Sainsbury’s 9%
  10. Aldi 6%

See other posts about supermarkets and chickens, wines, prices, and junk food

First posted in June 2015

Praise for supermarkets

woman_walking_shopping_cart_1600_wht_8020I’m known to have given supermarkets a kicking in the past for their general customer disservice, putting profits before your health, and price fiddling.

This week however praise for two of them: Morrisons and Asda

Morrisons has promised to donate all its surplus food that is safe to eat to local community groups.

Normally such food is binned, even spoiled with bleach to discourage dumper-diving and usually gets sent to anaerobic digestion plants.

After trialling the idea in Yorkshire and the northeast the supermarket will now appoint community champions to liaise with  local groups that will supply volunteers to pick up the food. Each store should be able to provide 4 trolley loads of food.

Food banks are reluctant to take food that looks damaged e.g. broken biscuits but the idea is that anything that is still edible should be turned into food at community cafes, homeless shelters, and drop-in centres.

The food could include items past their “best before” dates because that relates to quality not safety and retailers aren’t legally allowed to donate food past its “use by” date.

In Leeds Morrisons donates to a night cafe run by The Real Junk Food Project whose staff collect food and turn it into meals within two hours and provide it on a “pay as you feel” basis.

And Asda, not my favourite supermarket by any means, has quietly reintroduced misshapen fruit and vegetables – without getting complaints from customers.

They began by adding the malformed (by their perfectionist standards) carrots and sweet potatoes to its packed bags and crates, relaxing its requirements that the products should all conform to a certain size and shape. They used slogans like “beautiful on the inside” and “wonky” vegetables.

Under the new regime up to 15% of the product in class 1 can be misshapen or superficially damaged. In some cases it allows a range of sizes.Wow just as nature intended! Asda admit they underestimated people’s tolerance for ugly veg.

The product should now be cheaper but Asda won’t say by how much (don’t hold your breath). Farmers are also happier as they can use less land to meet their orders and they typically get £350 a tonne for class 1 carrots but only £5 a tonne for those sent for animal feed. And 40% of crops can be wasted or used for animal feed.

Supermarkets still putting profits before your health

j0262899Almost 300,000 people are poisoned very year by contaminated chickens but the supermarkets refuse to put in place measures which would reduce that and the 100 deaths.

And all for 10p a chicken.

Almost a fifth of chickens sold in supermarkets are heavily contaminated by campylobacter.

75% of them tested positive and in 7% of cases the outside of the packaging was infected (something the Food Standards Agency has warned about in respect of using “bags for life” so pack raw foods separately).

Supermarkets are not going to meet the FSA target of reducing the proportion of chickens heavily infected by December.

This is because of the price war and farmers reluctance to stop the practice of thinning out the chicken sheds which involves workers taking out birds so that the others can grow bigger (not doing this would reduce the weight of each bird by a fifth) but in the process carrying infections into the sheds on their boots and machinery. The process also stresses the remaining birds who are then more susceptible to disease. and infection.

Not thinning would halve the infection rate. Only Marks and Spencer and Waitrose have ordered their farmers to stop thinning their chicken houses.

We’re still using too many plastic shopping bags

woman_walking_shopping_cart_1600_wht_8020According to the latest research we each used 140 plastic bags last year and have 40 stashed away at home.

The number has increased every year for the last five years. Each of us took 11.7 bags per month, up on 10 the previous year, and the total now stands at 8.5 billion.

England is the only part of the UK where you don’t have to pay for your bags (with some exceptions e.g. Aldi and Marks and Spencer).

Wales introduced the 5p charge in 2011 and shoppers there use only 2.1 a month. In Northern Ireland which began charging in 2013 shoppers use1.6 a month. In Scotland, which started charging last October, consumption has already dropped 80%.

For some reason England is being different, some might say difficult about this as there are exemptions for smaller shops and for paper bags  – which are charged at the same rate as plastic bags elsewhere in the UK.

The Minister for Waste Rory Stewart said “We’re all guilty of taking a carrier bag from a supermarket, storing it somewhere safe at home with the intention of using it again, then forgetting to take it with us when we go shopping“.

I have a car boot full of re-usable bags I have bought from various supermarkets but invariably forget to take them into the store with me as I think I’m only going to buy one thing and I won’t need a bag!

I’ve posted on this before some years ago and also about its impact on the environment. At  last it’s finally going to happen here in England

Supermarket chickens – not much to choose between them when it comes to infection

black_skull_bones_1600_wht_3964The FSA has now released the names of the supermarkets selling infected chickens together with the results of the tests for campylobacter.

It seems that 70% of all the chickens we buy at supermarkets are infected to some degree with this bug that causes food poisoning.

ASDA has come out the worst for contamination at the highest risk level with 28% of chickens affected

Marks & Spencer is next worst at the high level with 22% followed by Morrisons at 21%.

Tesco came out much better at 11%.

All the supermarkets had between approximately 2/3 and 3/4 of their chickens contaminated at all risk levels and no retailer has yet achieved the 10% maximum target for the highest risk level which they agreed to do in 2010 by the end of next year.

Campylobacter is the biggest cause of food poisoning in the UK, responsible for 280,000 cases a year, and around 100 deaths but is easily killed by thorough cooking.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has issued advice on how to store and cook chickens.

See also earlier post on this topic


Supermarkets selling contaminated chickens

whats_for_dinner_1600_wht_11336Despite knowing that the chickens on their shelves are contaminated with a potentially lethal bacterium campylobacter. This makes almost 300,000 people ill each year.

The British Poultry Council, which represents chicken producers, has admitted that of the 5,000 batches of chicken randomly selected at slaughterhouses for testing, 24% – that’s almost a quarter or 1 in 4 – tested positive for the highest levels of contamination.

These results were sent to retailers within 2 days but by that time the chickens were already on the supermarkets’ shelves. The shocking thing is that no action was taken to remove them or warn shoppers which batches were affected.

The Council’s Director of Food Policy, Richard Griffiths, also declined to publish results from the survey showing which slaughterhouses had the highest contamination rates and which retailers they supplied.

Experts all agree that this is not acceptable with consumer group Which? calling for more transparency in the public interest and Professor Eric Millstone from the University of Sussex saying supermarkets should put systems in place so they can quickly withdraw these contaminated batches from sale. He also thinks that all this information should be in the public domain so customers can make informed choices.

The British Retail Consortium, which represents major retailers, said its members were not required by the Food Standards Agency to withdraw contaminated chickens. They said the tests were only carried out to check hygiene standards and publishing the results would only confuse shoppers. They said “we need to maintain the strong message that all chicken should be handled with care”.

What a condescending response. It thinks we are too stupid to understand that we run the risk of food poisoning if we buy a chicken at a particular supermarket! But the British Retail Consortium does all it can to protect its members from any criticism. And in the meantime the supermarkets try to pull the wool over our eyes and sell us food not fit for purpose.

What is the Food Standards Agency (FSA) doing about it? In the Summer retailers tried to prevent the FSA from publishing full results of a survey of chickens sold in shops. But next week it will name and shame those retailers with the highest rates of campylobacter contamination.


btw we’ve also had an outbreak of bird flu. The largest supplier of duck meat in Britain took 6 days to tell the Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA) it might have a problem as the ducks had stopped laying. This is apparently well-known to be an early indicator of bird flu. The company, Cherry Valley, originally said it contacted the authorities on the same day it noticed the drop in egg-laying but said it had made mistake and retracted that statement when Defra contradicted it.

6,000 ducks have been slaughtered and Defra imposed a 6-mile restriction zone at the farm in Nafferton, East Yorkshire. The strain identifies, H5N8, has not been associated with infection in humans and DEfra says that the advice from Public Health England and the chief medical officer is that the risk to public health is low. And the FSA said there is no safety risk for consumers

 It’s clear we can’t trust food producers and retailers to tell us the truth about contaminated products. Supermarket bosses must know about these problems but daren’t tell us in case they lose customers. So when they are not actually misleading you, they are keeping you in the dark. And shame on you Richard Griffiths for not acting in the public interest.