Greenpeace sues Tesco over “toxic” veg

Greenpeace is taking supermarket giants Tesco and Lianhua to court in China over the alleged sale of vegetables contaminated with illegal pesticides, ramping up the pressure on big business to respond to the country’s food safety crisis.

The East Asia arm of the environmental campaign group yesterday filed two separate lawsuits at the Beijing’s Secondary People’s Court and Shanghai District Court, following an investigation that claimed to have found traces of prohibited chemicals on green vegetables in stores in major Chinese cities. Tesco disputes the findings.

Greenpeace is asking the courts to order Tesco and Lianhua immediately to stop selling contaminated goods, apologise to the public and put in place more rigorous tracking systems to ensure their stock is clear of harmful toxins.    

In a report released two weeks ago, Greenpeace detailed the results of tests on fruit and vegetable samples bought from supermarkets in cities including Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Wuhan and Hangzhou. Of 16 samples taken from Tesco, 11 were found to contain pesticide residues, including one green vegetable that tested positive for methamidophos and monocrotophos, banned for use in China since 2007, the report said.

At Lianhua, a Chinese leek sample was found to contain pesticide residue procymidone levels of 1.05 milligrams per kilogram, exceeding the legal limit of 0.02 milligrams per kilogram and a leafy vegetable with traces of methamidophos, Greenpeace said. In total, 15 samples from the chain were found to contain pesticide residues, including chemicals categorised as hormone disrupters by the European Union, the report said.

However, Tesco said it had carried out its own tests on products from the lines in question and found pesticide levels were at normal levels and compliant with local laws. A spokesman said: "Food safety is a vital part of the trust we want our customers to place in us. All of the samples tested were safe for customers and compliant with Chinese law. We have asked Greenpeace for further evidence to help us trace these products back to their source so we can conduct further tests and ensure that the suppliers are complying with our strict controls on the use of pesticides.”

Xiaojun Wang, communications director at Greenpeace China, told chinadialogue his office filed legal documents yesterday and would now “wait and see” how the courts respond. He explained that the action was ultimately about raising consumer awareness: “It’s pretty much a tool for the consumers to realise what’s going on with their food and in their supermarkets. The ideal outcome would be more people understanding about their own foods. As a consumer, the most powerful thing is what you choose to buy – you can choose supermarket A or supermarket B. That’s what sends the clearest signal to supermarkets and producers.”

Greenpeace East Asia is being represented by Beijing-based En Yang Law Firm. As well as an apology, it is seeking compensation for the amount it spent on vegetables and testing during its investigation, plus legal fees: up to 4,000 yuan (US$626).