Your local supermarket may be cheap and convenient, but at what cost to the planet? A new report has revealed that Britain’s biggest food chains are still putting too much time, energy and money into persuading customers to buy environmentally unfriendly meat and dairy products.
A “supermarket scorecard” compiled by the charity Feedback ranks the UK’s top 10 stores – which between them control 94 per cent of the UK grocery market – according to their efforts to reduce the adverse impact of the animal products on their shelves. The Co-op was top of the tree, on a not-that-impressive 45 per cent, and Lidl at the bottom, on a meagre 17 per cent.
The Co-op was the only one of the 10 supermarkets to measure and report the climate impact of its own-brand products. All 10 were deemed to be fuelling demand for meat with promotions that actively encourage shoppers to add bacon, mince and sausages to their trolleys. And despite eight having pledged to stop selling meat linked to deforestation, this has yet to happen. The two that haven’t even got as far as a pledge are Iceland and Asda.
“UK supermarkets are continuing to drive demand for meat and dairy products that are already responsible for 15 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions – and fuelling deforestation in the Amazon and elsewhere,” said Feedback’s executive director, Carina Millstone. “It’s time for supermarkets to step up to the plate, slash their meat and dairy products and offer customers more sustainable and healthier options.”
In addition to the promotions, half the supermarkets were found still to be using misleading stickers to dupe shoppers into thinking the animals from which the products were made had come from farms with high welfare standards – so-called “fake farm” labels. Criticising their use in an interview in March, the chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said “words like ‘traditional farm’, ‘farm-fresh’, and the made-up names of farms … give a subliminal reassurance to people that they’re buying something that’s kind of good for the environment.”
While the ratings showed environmental policies had improved since 2019, Feedback found that none of the supermarkets reveal the amount of meat and dairy they sell as a proportion of protein sales; none offer more than 20 per cent organic or free-range products (Iceland sells 0 per cent); and only three (Asda, Morrisons and Tesco) ensure more than a quarter of their ready-meals were vegetarian or vegan.
The Eating Better alliance – of which MFM is part – had better news on the ready-meal front, however, with its 2021 survey into the quick-dinner market showing a 92 per cent increase in the number of plant-based options on offer since 2018. Seven out of the 10 supermarkets now sell these products for less than their meat counterparts, and four have boosted their offerings considerably: Aldi by 175 per cent, Tesco by 103 per cent and the Co-op and Morrisons by more than 60 per cent.
On the subject of animal products, Simon Billing, the executive director of Eating Better, said: “Feedback’s scorecard shows retailers are still focused on boosting meat sales, despite setting net-zero targets and pledging to help us eat healthier and more sustainably. Making it easier for shoppers to buy more meat and dairy than they need, or probably want is not the way forward for our health, or that of the planet.”
The full rankings are:
1. The Co-op