Tesco’s warning to New Zealand farmers

British supermarket chain Tesco wants to be assured that all fresh produce, meat and dairy it sells is sustainable, including that which comes from New Zealand farmers.

Sustainable agriculture manager at Tesco Alice Ritchie said the supermarket chain was the biggest buyer of New Zealand products in Britain.

She said the business wanted to get to net zero across its entire supply chain by 2050. “For us it’s important what happens in New Zealand and how it feeds into our wider reduction plans.

“Around 2025 to 2030 we want to make sure that 100% of what we source in terms of fresh produce, meat and dairy is environmentally accredited. What that means for our New Zealand farmers we are not sure yet.”

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In the year to September 30, New Zealand exported 36,340 tons of sheep meat to the UK, with a value of over $521 million.

Tesco has more than 2300 stores across Europe and Asia.

Tesco suppliers in the UK had to measure and report their carbon footprints from last year, and needed to dedicate to a net-zero future this year.

They also needed to set science-based emission reduction targets from next year and were recently told they had to switch to renewable electricity at some stage, Ritchie said.

Almost half of Tesco’s emissions came from farming, and as it sourced food from New Zealand, a large part of its emissions were generated here, Ritchie said.

Alice Ritchie, Tesco UK farm sustainability manager

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Alice Ritchie, Tesco UK farm sustainability manager

New Zealand, which already had sustainability programs and was introducing climate regulations for farming, was ahead of other countries, she said.

Ritchie said the company was required to report its emissions based on a metric that gave methane a CO2 equivalent.

UK farmers were able to offset farm emissions by, for example, claiming carbon credits for having hedgerows. This in turn brought down Tesco’s emission profile, she said.

This was not yet the case in New Zealand.

UK suppliers submitted their climate data every year and this in turn was fed into Tesco’s climate reports, she said.

Tracking emissions progress on farms would become a requirement for supplying to Tesco, she added.

“We know from the UK context and know what we will ask from UK farmers but what environmentally accredited looks like in international supply chains will be interesting to figure out.”

Gerhard Uys/Stuff

Farmers sat down for a haircut and a conversation about what environmental issues they face on their farms at Fieldays.

The way the market approached claims about climate initiatives by food companies changed this year, Ritchie said.

Where products with climate claims were previously sold for a premium, a 41-year high inflation meant UK consumers valued price and quality above buying premium products with climate credentials, she said.

Consumers were now expecting that all products were sustainably sourced, she said.

In the future, a government framework on top of certification schemes would be important when the company imported products, she said.

The supermarket relied heavily on data collected from farms.

It allowed them, for example, to show that it sold milk from UK farmers with the lowest climate impact in the country, she said.

Data collection would become the norm for good business practice and would help relationships through the supply chain, she said.

The company did not only focus on climate but was focused on biodiversity, soil health, water management, worker human rights and animal welfare, she said.

Chairperson of the New Zealand Farm Assurance Programme, Nick Beeby, says New Zealand has independently audited standards and systems in place to measure farm environmental outcomes.

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Chairperson of the New Zealand Farm Assurance Programme, Nick Beeby, says New Zealand has independently audited standards and systems in place to measure farm environmental outcomes.

Chairperson of the New Zealand Farm Assurance Program Nick Beeby said New Zealand had independently audited standards and systems in place to measure farm outcomes.

About 8000 sheep and beef farmers subscribed to a farm assurance program, he said.

Such standards provided market opportunities, Beeby said.

The program was reviewed each year and could easily adapt to the requirements that clients set, he said.

Beeby said retailers often set the market direction, and UK retailers had required farm assurance programs for a long time.

Retailers were translating consumer trends and protecting their own brands by setting standards, he said.