DEFRA HAS been accused of undermining marketing and promotion of British food through “over-zealous” enforcement of EU state aid rules.

Under these rules, a member state is not allowed to promote its produce in its own territory based on country of origin, explains a new report by British Agricultural Marketing.

As a result, farmers‘ levy money can be used only for generic promotion, which in turn supports sales of imported food.

The report claims that DEFRA slows down all marketing initiatives submitted for approval, since it can take up to 18 months for any plan to be assessed by its state aid lawyers.

It also accuses DEFRA of rejecting proposals on “spurious” grounds.

In contrast, the French are seen to actively encourage the promotion of their produce.

“The Paris government has recently funded a national week celebrating French food in schools, a campaign for home-grown apples and has registered 135 protected products under the EU’s quality assurance scheme,” said a statement from the Tenant Farmers‘ Association and the National Beef Association, which co-sponsored the report.

These protected geographical indication products (PGIs) are seen as vital to any future marketing strategy, since they can be promoted free of state aid rules.

The report notes that the UK currently has just 35 PGIs, and accuses DEFRA of failing to encourage the registration of such products.

But a government spokesman explained that it was up to the food industry to make the initial application for a PGI, while DEFRA just forwarded those with merit to the commission in Brussels.

The fact France had so many more PGIs reflected the fact that it had a longer history of regional branding.

DEFRA also defended its role in applying EU state aid legislation, insisting that it was merely respecting the same rules that apply to all other member states.

But George Dunn, chief executive of the TFA, was adamant that more could and should be done.

“How come the French are able to spend E90m (£63m) supporting their wine industry, much of which goes to growers, if they are bound by the same state aid rules?” he asked.

philip.clarke@rbi.co.uk