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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 May, 2004, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
Co-op bans 'dangerous' chemicals
Many chemicals in everyday items are suspected of causing harm
A supermarket chain has banned a range of potentially dangerous chemicals from its own household cleaning brands and other everyday products.

The Co-op has banned chemicals which have been linked to cancer, fertility problems and environmental damage even though they are still legally usable.

Head of Co-op Brand David Croft said there was "credible evidence" against the chemicals which could be replaced.

The Co-op is urging the rest of the industry to follow its lead.

The banned substances - nitro and polycyclic musks and phthalates among them - are chemicals found in cleaning products, and artificial musks used in perfume products which can be absorbed by the body.

Studies suggest that the build up of these can cause harm.

Ethical standards

The Co-op says where there is conflicting evidence and there is even a hint of a risk it will apply the precautionary principle and eliminate it from its products.

The move comes as the supermarket attempts to spearhead an initiative to raise ethical standards in supermarket products in the UK.

Mr Croft says consumers want and expect high standards of integrity.

"They'll vote with their wallet and support or veto our products," he said.

"They're no longer passive consumers, but want to play an influencing role as active citizens. That's why the Co-op is embarking on the most radical review of a supermarket own-brand range - food and non-food - ever undertaken," he added.

And to help it, the Co-op has recruited a 10-strong panel of experts chaired by Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University.

The Co-op has stolen a march on its rivals
The BBC's Nicola Carlsaw

The panel brings together recognised independent expertise in food policy, public health, ethical trading, animal welfare, agricultural sustainability and environmental issues.

"Where the panel will come into its own is in helping us to identify and act on issues which challenge the industry view that everything in the garden is rosy," said Mr Croft.

An industry spokesman said all supermarkets were getting rid of chemicals deemed to present more risks than benefits.

But BBC consumer affairs correspondent Nicola Carslaw said the Co-op had stolen a march on its rivals.

A recent study carried out by NOP for the supermarket found six out of 10 shoppers would boycott goods that were ethically unsound.

The survey of 30,000 consumers found nine out of 10 wanted tougher monitoring of retailers and the industry on ethical issues.

Alan Gill, Chief Exec, Co-op
"We've erred on the side of caution for the benefit of our customers"

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08 Dec 03  |  Business

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