People would do more to help the environment by eating locally sourced meat than buying inferior produce “from the other side of the world”, an environment minister has said.

Pressed in Parliament over moves to ensure large supermarkets sell British goods, Lord Benyon argued customers held greater sway than Government “finger-wagging”.

The Tory frontbencher was also tackled over the implications for British farmers of free trade deals with Australia and New Zealand, which have triggered concerns within the industry.

Speaking at Westminster, Conservative former cabinet minister Lord McLoughlin said: “We are seeing a rise in the number of farm shops up and down the country, but what is the department doing to ensure that large supermarkets sell British products?”

Responding, Lord Benyon said: “The best pressure on supermarkets does not necessarily come from finger-wagging of the Government or measures from ministers but from the customer.

“We must encourage people to shop locally. For example, if they are concerned about the effects of their diet on climate change, eating grass-fed, locally produced meat means they are probably doing more to help the environment than when buying products that have been brought from the other side of the world, under circumstances that are much below our standards in this country.”

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Jones of Cheltenham said: “How do the new trade deals with Australia and New Zealand help with the aims of maintaining Britain’s food production self-sufficiency level at 60 per cent and creating an environment for farm and food businesses to thrive and compete in the coming years?”

Lord Benyon said: “Free trade is important – it benefits us all."

“We have incorporated into the two trade deals that he talked about the absolute determination to protect our standards of animal welfare and environmental protection. That is the best protection that we can give to the high-quality produce that our farmers produce in this country.”