Supermarkets have been told they should give more shelf space to local foods, to help reduce the environmental and social costs of transporting produce.

The advice was given in the government’s newly published Food Industry Sustainability Strategy, which aims to improve the industry’s environmental, social and economic performance.

The strategy, which is also aimed at processors and manufacturers, pointed out that “food miles” are a significant source of carbon dioxide emissions.

It suggested that the external costs of UK food transportation amount to over £9bn a year and the UK food industry also accounts for 25% of all the mileage done by Heavy Goods Vehicles each year.

As a consequence, it said the food industry, particularly retailers, should look at ways to achieve reductions on these costs of up to 20% by 2012.

“Food retailers have a crucial part to play in helping to reduce the negative externalities associated with food transportation,” it said.

“This strategy relies on [food retailers] helping to rebuild the market for locally-sourced produce by ensuring that their buying teams are aware of the opportunities for working with local food producers.”

The strategy said farmers would probably need guidance to help them get to grips with the requirements of supermarkets. Tasting opportunities should also be organised to encourage consumers to buy local food.

It added:

“Crucially, retailers need to demonstrate their commitment to locally-sourced produce by making shelf space available.”

Meanwhile NFU president Peter Kendall has held a meeting with Tony Blair to discuss the issues facing UK agriculture.

High on the agenda, which included the fiasco surrounding single farm payments and concerns over the EU budget, was the imbalances in the food chain.

“While making sure farmers receive the SFP is top of the immediate list, the really critical issue is that farming is able to prosper and be competitive in a functional food chain,” said Mr Kendall.

The Prime Minister also launched the UK’s Red Tractor Day to celebrate the achievements of the food industry in promoting UK produce to consumers.

Standing outside No 10 Downing Street, Mr Blair urged consumers to look out for the quality standard mark and called for more food businesses to join the alliance.

For more on the red tractor visit http://www.redtractor.org.uk or telephone 020 7630 3320.

fwnews@rbi.co.uk