THE Co-operative Group has become the first retailer to ban a range of toxic chemicals that are permitted for inclusion in everyday products like washing-up liquid, household cleaners and fabric conditioners.
The banned chemicals, which have been removed from Co-op household products, can be absorbed by the human body and have been linked to cancer and fertility loss as well as environmental damage.
The move follows a similar campaign launched by the Co-operative Bank last year, which pledged to highlight and help ban dangerous chemicals from household goods.
David Croft, Head of Co-op Brand at the Co-operative Group, said: "Some scientists say that these chemicals present little or no risk, while others insist that they should have been banned ages ago.
"We believe there is enough credible evidence against their use to avoid them, thereby giving the benefit of the doubt to consumers, especially as these chemicals are easily replaced without any discernible difference."
The Group is also the first supermarket to establish an independent panel of experts, chaired by Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University, to help it define and implement new and higher ethical standards for the 4,500 products in the Co-op own-brand range.
This radical step followed last week's publication of Shopping with Attitude ? the biggest independent consumer study into the ethics of the food industry.
Nearly 30,000 consumers were questioned by NOP, on the society's behalf, on a range of issues from animal welfare and Third World exploitation to dishonest marketing and the use of unnatural additives to boost sales.
The study showed that six in 10 shoppers are ready to boycott goods that are ethically unsound, and that nine in 10 want tougher monitoring of retailers and industry on ethical issues.
And, on every count consumers are more concerned today about the ethics of supermarket products than they were 10 years ago.
According to the NOP research:
? Six in 10 worry more about food integrity, the environment and animal rights
? Eight in 10 want to see more support for growers in developing countries
? Eight in 10 will pay a little extra for products that meet higher ethical standards, provided that quality is as good
? Nine in 10 want food labels to tell the whole truth
? Nine in 10 want a ban on misleading labels
? Seven in 10 want retailers to buy only humanely-reared meat
? Seven in 10 want retailers to support products not harmful to wildlife
? Six in 10 want an end to products from non-sustainable sources
? Seven in 10 want business to minimise pollution
? Six in 10 want retailers to minimise packaging.
Mr Lang, chair of Co-operative Group's panel of experts, commented: "This is a bold move by the Co-operative Group and begins what will be a challenging process for the organisation, the advisory panel and the consumers who use the Co-op.
"The 21st century poses awesome opportunities. If we get things wrong, food insecurity might rise.
"If we get things right, the food supply chain will begin to play its part in making the world more sustainable, which currently it is failing to do."