RETAILERS WERE accused of undermining the Little Red Tractor quality assurance scheme by Oxford Farming Conference delegate Mark Tripley of Leverhulme Farms.

He said they had been “very clever” at making sure such schemes do not take off.

But he did praise Waitrose for developing its own quality assurance standards and Asda-Walmart for their cost-plus scheme to guarantee minimum prices for vegetable growers.

The British Retail Consortium denied the accusations, saying that its members fully supported the LRT scheme.

“We will be working with Assured Farm Standards on its campaign to increase awareness of the initiative, so customers can make informed choices and decisions on what they buy,” said a spokesman.

Mr Tripley also called for a beefed-up environmental element to assurance schemes – the so-called little green trailer on the back of the red tractor.

“We need a website for assured food, to communicate what we‘re doing in terms of environmental standards to consumers,” he suggested.

Joanne Denney-Finch of the IGD also believes that consumers want to buy British food, but need to have the “virtues” of it explained to them by farmers in their own language.

“The shopper is not just motivated by price. There is a groundswell of support for British food out there, but don‘t kid yourselves: if you want to charge more for British food, you have to explain why.”

Tim Bennett, president of the NFU, described the Little Red Tractor scheme as world class and yet to be bettered.

He told delegates “not to underestimate what British farmers have achieved by investing in assurance schemes”.

But he warned that labelling practices would have to be tightened up, lambasting current efforts as an “absolute disgrace” that “encouraged” operators to cheat.

“We have to offer consumers something more. But while the law allows labels to mislead consumers, how are we going to convince them?”