Source: Alamy

Red Tractor is working with retailers and farmers to create the new eco-labelling scheme

Red Tractor is launching supermarket trials of a new environmental assurance scheme that could join the increasingly crowded eco-labelling space.

Under the trials, Red Tractor will work with a group of retailers and farmers to create a new scheme to assess Scope 3 emissions on British farms – a measure increasingly demanded by the mults.

The pilot, signed off by the Red Tractor board last week, is expected to run for around six months and determine the feasibility of a new ‘Red Tractor + environment’ on-pack logo.

“It’ll be one module that covers the five areas retailers are saying they will be needing,” said Christine Tacon, Red Tractor chair. Topics will include biodiversity, water use and soil health.

“At the moment we’re designing what it needs to contain such that it satisfies retailers, and ‘satisfy’ is the word,” Tacon stressed. “People always talk about wanting to ‘delight’ them but we just think: what is the minimum you need in this module that you’re all happy with?”

The label will face stiff competition, with Lidl, IGD, and Foundation Earth among those to have launched eco-labelling schemes.

While Tacon recognised there was “quite a lot of noise in this area”, she argued “what we’re trying to do is go back to that minimum audit for maximum access, so that you don’t have a Lidl inspection, and a Tesco inspection and everybody else doing these different audits”.

“In fresh produce, both Tesco and Lidl have insisted on LEAF but LEAF is very much a fresh produce scheme. It doesn’t exist in the meat area and so we need something similar,” she added.

“The core is that if you have satisfied the environmental module you should be able to charge a premium.” The pilot would seek to determine what it would cost to achieve that, she added. And “are they going to get a premium that will cover that?”

But with the UK’s post-Brexit subsidy system still unconfirmed, some farmers fear the new scheme could see them pay to make changes just months before the government steps in with equivalent funding.

“My fear is that farmers bend over backwards to comply with something they may actually get supported from the government to do,” said Neil Shand, CEO of the National Beef Association.