By Andrew Blake

FRUIT and vegetables in some supermarkets could bear the LEAF logo beside the NFUs British Farm Standards kitemark by next spring.

The idea, floated at LEAFs annual general meeting by Waitrose head of buying, John Foley, has been discussed with several leading retailers for nearly a year, says LEAF chairman, David Richardson.

In due course other foods could also bear LEAF labels showing integrated farming produced them.

The Assured Produce Scheme and ACCS are mainly production orientated, and under the current economic climate are unlikely to move beyond what is required by law, says Mr Foley.

“But our customers are demanding increasing reassurances that the food they buy is not only safe and wholesome but has been produced with care and concern for the environment.

We need a clearly identifiable scheme to demonstrate the environmental credentials of our products.”

Waitrose is a leading player in organic food, where customers have increasingly been prepared to pay for its specific production method, says Mr Foley, an AP protocols development group member.

The company recognises LEAFs role in persuading growers to farm to IFM principles.

“But a lot of farmers have embraced the concept of care for the environment and are not getting recognition for it. We want to change this.”

All the firms home-grown fresh produce meets Assured Produce or organic standards.

“I see the LEAF logo as a positive and practical way forward. Working in parallel with the Assured Produce scheme, the LEAF stamp would go one stage further in showing our environmental commitment to our customers.

“I want to encourage more members of the Assured Produce scheme to go that route by a graduated LEAF scheme.”

In practice that could involve bronze, silver and gold LEAF labelling, he explains.

The first would apply to producers satisfactorily completing a basic audit. The second would identify those with audited performance.

A gold label would require evidence of additional development plans, especially environmental ones.

“In this highly competitive market such LEAF-tagged produce is unlikely to sustain premiums, but it could secure markets which would otherwise be closed.

“We cannot talk premiums until we know what the following for it might be. We need to identify how concerned consumers really are for the environment.”

Putting independent verification behind the idea will take time, warns Mr Foley.

“It has to have credibility. But we must not add to the bureaucracy which farmers have already undergone.”

“It is a long held ambition of ours to achieve such recognition from the market,” says Mr Richardson.

“We will continue negotiations to ensure we get the best deal for LEAF farmers and growers.”

Making sure the label is not abused and that the claims behind it can be verified will be important, he adds.

The NFU says it is highly likely that the joint BFS/LEAF labelling idea will go ahead.

“We see no problem at all,” says head of food and marketing, Helen Lo.