With future of trade with the European Union still far from certain, it is “absolutely essential” for urgent action to better establish Britain’s global brand for food and drink, as gaining access to new international markets takes time.
The warning, in a report from the cross-party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee, came as food and farming groups welcomed an announcement by Environment Secretary Michael Gove that Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of restaurant chain Leon and the Sustainable Restaurant Association, will spearhead the Government’s first major review into the UK food system, “from field to fork”, in nearly 75 years.
His recommendations will result in a “trailblazing” new National Food Strategy being published next year, Mr Gove said.
Ministers also announced an agreement last week that will see British beef exported to China by the end of the year, more than 20 years after the Chinese government banned UK beef imports following a BSE outbreak.
Food and drink is the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector and its exports were worth £22.6bn last year but the EFRA Committee claims that awareness of British food and drink is low in international markets.
Neil Parish MP, who chairs the committee, whose members include Yorkshire MPs Angela Smith, John Grogan and Julian Sturdy, said: “What the current approach to marketing and export is really lacking is enough ambition or strategic thinking – the Government cannot afford to be complacent at a time of such grave importance to the sector.
“We must see the Government work closely with the industry to promote our food and drink excellence around the world.
“Market access and increasing exports do not happen overnight, and action must be taken urgently,” the South Devon MP added.
His committee recommends that the origin of ingredients in processed foods is stated on packaging so shoppers can make more informed decisions about buying British, and that EU approved Geographical Indications, that add value to products such as Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese, remain valid post-Brexit.
The MPs also want the Government to reverse budget cuts to a programme that supports businesses to attend trade shows abroad, and to step up research into the best ways to promote British products overseas and increase exposure to British food.