November 21, 2019

Grocery Retailers Making Improvements in Toxic Chemical Elimination, Report Finds

Target, Walmart and Whole Foods Market earned high marks within the grocery category in a report released this week detailing how retailers are embracing and putting into effect chemical safety policies intended to help protect consumers from toxic chemicals in the products they carry.

The fourth annual ‘Who’s Minding the Store? A Report Card on Retailer Actions to Eliminate Toxic Chemicals’ evaluated and graded the chemical policies and practices of 43 retail chains with more than 190,000 stores in the US and Canada. Aldi, Amazon, Loblaw, Albertsons, Costco, Kroger and Ahold Delhaize were given grades of C+, C or C-. Trader Joe’s received a D-, while Publix and Sobeys both received Fs.

According to merida reports, retail grocers and restaurants are focused on eliminating classes of toxic chemicals, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), ortho-phthalates and bisphenols from food packaging materials, which have been found to be a source of exposure to harmful contaminants. These actions respond to growing consumer concern about food safety and toxic chemicals.

“A growing body of scientific evidence has shown health hazards from exposure to chemicals such as phthalates, PFAS and flame retardants. Exposure to phthalates during pregnancy is of particular concern. The fact that so many companies have improved their chemical policies over the last year is thus inspiring and hopefully will be a strong impetus for others to act,” said Dr. Robin M. Whyatt, Professor Emeritus, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Columbia University.

The letter grades don’t reflect how some retailers have made noticeable improvements since the reports were first released in 2016. Target and Walmart both received a B in the first year but have maintained their A grade from 2018. Whole Foods has steadily held a B+ since 2017 when it was first evaluated. Ahold Delhaize was among those with most improved scores having gone from an F in 2017 to its C- ranking this year. Kroger, Albertson’s and even Trader Joe’s have all made incremental improvements over the last few years.

Mike Belliveau, Executive Director of Environmental Health Strategy Center and report co-author said, “We applaud retail market leaders for protecting public health and the environment while our federal government refuses to act. Eliminating toxic chemicals – like PFAS and phthalates – from food packaging meets growing customer demand for greater food safety.”

The report covered retailers in a variety of categories including home improvement, office supplies, apparel and electronics as well. Of note, Dollar General has launched a new safer chemicals policy banning eight toxic chemicals in private-label beauty, personal care, and household cleaning products over the next three years. In the two months leading up to the release of the report, The Home Depot, Lowe’s, Ahold Delhaize, and Staples also made notable, new chemical safety commitments, including adopting new policies restricting certain toxic chemicals such as PFAS harmful to human health and the environment.

Overall, 63 percent of evaluated companies improved over the past year alone. The study also found dramatic improvement in retailer chemical action between 2016 to 2019, with the average grade moving from D+ to B- (for the eleven retailers evaluated since 2016). This consumer protection progress comes at a time when lawmakers have weakened or delayed action on hazardous chemicals that can cause cancer, reproductive harm, and other serious illnesses.

“Our federal government has failed to act on hazardous chemicals that can cause cancer, reproductive harm, and other serious illnesses,” explains report co-author Mike Schade, Mind the Store campaign director for Safer Chemicals Healthy Families. “In light of this growing regulatory void, major retailers are stepping up to safeguard our health. This is helping to bring healthier products into the hands of consumers across North America and drive the development of safer chemicals and green chemistry solutions.”

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