Farm minister Jim Fitzpatrick has denied that the government toned down food labelling proposals on behalf of Britain’s biggest retailer.

His comments follow an assertion by ex-minister Stephen Byers that labelling rules were altered on behalf of Tesco.

“As far as I’m aware, it is a ridiculous claim,” Mr Fitzpatrick told Farmers Weekly. Food labelling was “alive and well” in DEFRA, he added.

Far from toning down labelling rules, the government was lobbying hard in Europe for stricter food information regulations, he said.

“I think there is a bit of bravado there on Stephen’s part, perhaps embellishing his importance and significance.”

Mr Fitzpatrick suggested Mr Byers had tried to “guild the lily” in a bid to secure a lucrative contract.

Undercover reporters recorded Mr Byers claiming he had intervened on behalf of Tesco to delay and amend food labelling proposals.

Mr Byers told reporters he had telephoned business secretary Lord Mandelson and asked him modify labelling rules.

The claim was broadcast in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme at 8pm on Monday (22 March).

Mr Byers was also recorded as saying he was like a “cab for hire” who would undertake private work for up to £5000 a day.

The former business secretary has since retracted his claims, saying he had “exaggerated” his position.

Tesco described the food labelling claim as “completely fictitious.”

The supermarket chain said it had not spoken to Mr Byers on food labelling, regulation or any other issue.