The Co-operative Group has clashed with the Soil Association over the importance placed on the distance food has travelled by air in a new labelling system.

The system has been designed to encourage customers to choose low carbon products from retailers. However Co-op said that air freight is a very small part of the environmental impact of a product and believes the move could put at risk producers in poorer countries such as Africa.

Co-op social reporting manager Laura Vickery said in a letter to the Soil Association: “We consider that focusing on air freight is a very poor proxy for the environmental impact of a product and also does not adequately deal with other social and/or economic consequences of disincentivising air freight, particularly for producers in the developing world.”

The Soil Association said it has no intention of banning air freighted products, but is looking into changing its regulations so products that meet its own ethical trade and Fairtrade Foundation standards may be allowed to be air freighted.

The Soil Association standards board chair Anna Bradley said: “By addressing concerns over air freight in our standards, we aim to make it easier for consumers to make informed and sustainable choices.”