The government’s commitment to British farmers has been called into question after the Conservative party allowed a major sugar importer to sponsor its conference.

Lanyards holding delegate passes to the four-day conference in Manchester, which runs from 1-4 October, are being sponsored by Tate & Lyle Sugars.

Tate & Lyle’s UK business is based on refining imported sugar cane – in direct competition to British farmers who grow sugar beet rather than sugar cane.

See also: Farmer anger as Tesco ditches British sugar

The company’s sponsorship of the conference means Tory party members – including government ministers – will be advertising a brand which is a major competitor to British Sugar.

NFU vice-president Guy Smith, who is attending the event to lobby for a fair Brexit deal for British farmers, has scrawled out the words Tate & Lyle on his lanyard.

“You won’t build a country on imports,” he said.

Mr Smith posted before and after photos of his defaced lanyard on Twitter – prompting a flurry of responses from farmers.

Lincolnshire grower Andrew Ward described the decision to allow Tate & Lyle to sponsor the conference as disgraceful.

“So much for supporting British agriculture,” he said.

Meanwhile, NFU director general Terry Jones has swapped his lanyard for one bearing a farmer-friendly British Sugar branding and a #BackBritishSugar hashtag.

Louth and Horncastle MP Victoria Atkins, who is married to British Sugar managing director Paul Kenward, is also wearing a British Sugar lanyard at the conference.

Mr Kenward said the only way consumers could guarantee they were buying British retail sugar was by looking for the Silver Spoon brand or Red Tractor logo.

The conference comes just days after Defra secretary Michael Gove visited British Sugar’s factory at Newark to mark the end of the EU sugar regime.

British Sugar wants to increase its output by 40% now the regime has ended and quotas limiting EU sugar production have been lifted.

Defra said the visit was being held to “celebrate our world-class farming industry and discuss new opportunities for British growers”.

Mr Gove is due to speak at an NFU fringe meeting later on Monday (2 October).