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Tim Hortons, Metro among retailers in new report toxic chemicals hall of shame



TORONTO -- Five well-known Canadian brands have been given failing grades for not publicly addressing the safety of toxic chemicals that may be used in the products they sell.

The fifth annual “Who’s Minding the Store?– A Report Card on Retailer Actions to Eliminate Toxic Chemicals,” gives academic-style grades to 50 major retailers in Canada and the U.S. on their toxic chemical safety. It awards points based on 13 criteria, including oversight, accountability, disclosure, policy and action.

The list includes a who’s who of brands covering more than 200,000 stores, and many of the laggards are Canadian names.

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Metro Inc., Sobeys, Couche-Tard, Circle K and Tim Hortons were all among the 15 brands that received Fs in the assessment. Couche-Tard and Circle K are both subsidiaries of Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. Tim Hortons is owned by holding company Restaurant Brands International (RBI) and Sobeys is owned by Empire Company Ltd.

The report, a collaboration of several non-profit organizations including Environmental Defence Canada, actually pointed to improvement among many of the retailers that it has previously assessed, and noted this year’s report card had the lowest-ever percentage of retailers with failing grades.

It gave A+ marks to Apple Inc. and Target Corp, which each scored more than 100 points. At the other end of the scale, four retailers, including Metro, failed to earn a single point.

“Tragically, too many retailers fail to publicly disclose even the most basic of actions needed to assure their customers that the products and packaging they sell do not contain toxic chemicals,” the report said.

“Consumers expect better from the stores they frequent, and retailers in this year’s Toxic Hall of Shame run the risk of eroding loyalty and lost customers,” it added.

The study aims to highlight the growing sustainability trend among large retailers as many adopt policies that reduce usage of toxic chemicals such as PFAS, or “forever chemicals,” so-called because of their resistance to being naturally broken down.

In its findings for Metro, whose subsidiaries include Food Basics and Jean Coutu, the study noted the substantial public attention around toxic indirect food additives, toxic chemicals in other products and certain plastics, but found, “there is no indication that Metro has made any significant public-facing commitments to address the safety of chemicals used in the products it sells, including any indirect food additives that may be in food contact materials.”

In an emailed statement, Metro communications manager Stephanie Bonk said the company had been unaware of the report, but plans to look into it.

The report also criticized Sobeys for the lack of indications that it is taking action to address the issue of toxic indirect food additives, chemicals and certain plastics.

Regarding Tim Hortons, the report said that parent RBI has no significant public-facing commitments to address the safety of indirect food additives that may be in food contact materials.

However, it also said: “the company does receive credit for restricting various chemicals of high concern in promotional toys, for restricting bisphenol A in food-contact materials and for setting a goal to eliminate expanded polystyrene foam in all food packaging globally by 2021.”

In a statement to CTVNews.ca, Tim Hortons said all of its product and packaging specifications meet Health Canada and Canadian Food Inspection Agency standards.

“We also have strict guidelines around the approved products that are used in our restaurants to maintain food safety. We’re always striving to do better and continuously review our policies on raw materials.”

Tim Hortons also said it has been “proactively working” with its Canadian suppliers to develop and test PFAS-free packaging.

“The updated packaging materials will be introduced at all Tim Hortons restaurants in Canada, with the goal to complete the transition by early 2022,” the statement said.

Other Canadian companies ranked were Loblaws Inc., which earned a ‘C’, and Canadian Tire Corp, which received a ‘D’.

Catherine Thomas, senior director of external communications at Loblaw, said in an email that the company has been focused for years on reducing chemicals in its products and stores.

“We’re pleased to see that this attention has us leading our industry in this recent report,” she said. “That said, we know our efforts are not done, and in fact there are a number of initiatives we’ve implemented recently that were not reflected, including our no name Simple Check program, and our PC Free From program.” According to the company’s website, the ‘Simple Check’ products are those made without certain ingredients, such as artificial flavours and sweeteners, while the ‘Free From’ meats are made without antibiotics.

Other Canadian retailers mentioned in the report did not immediately respond to requests for comment.