The UK food industry could miss out on the increasingly competitive global marketplace unless it gets it exporting act together soon.

That was the message from Northern Ireland dairy farmer Will Taylor to a Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust conference in London last week.

By 2015, the UK agrifood industry should get a third of its income from selling products abroad, including to expanding markets in central and eastern Europe, he said.

Mr Taylor, a past president of the Ulster Farmers Union, has been studying potential opportunities and threats from the eight countries which attained full EU membership last year.

“Low labour costs will give the central European region a cost advantage for several years.

“Many are already exporting food to the UK – and this will only increase as consumers here ask retailers to stock the delicious foods they taste on visits to these countries.”

Mr Taylor said that, by comparison, the UK industry was failing to recognise the potential export value of its food.

Ireland’s Bord Bia spent £18m on food promotion and Sopexa in France spent £50m, but Food from Britain did the best it could with £6m.

“By 2015 there will be a truly global market and we must get our export act together,” he urged.

“My vision is for one single body providing a co-ordinated approach to all UK food exporting.

“The finance for this will come from industry, but government could be asked to front-load part of these resources.”