Consumers should ignore best before labels and decide for themselves whether food is good to eat in a bid to cut food waste and make Britain less dependent on imported food.

Speaking as he was about to set launch an assessment of the sustainability of the UK’s food supply, DEFRA Secretary Hilary Benn said a more sensible approach to food safety was needed.

With a 70% increase in global food production needed by 2050 to feed growing populations and food resources facing higher demand thanks to biofuels, Mr Benn said the UK needed to become more self-sufficient.

Britain currently produces about 61% of the food it consumes, a figure Mr Benn said must rise,

“We need to produce as much food as we can ourselves,” he told the BBC.

While he was keen to cut the amount of food imported to the UK, Mr Benn said he would not seek to stop the sale of imported foods, such as Spanish strawberries.

Instead, he hoped consumers would buy seasonal British produce.

British consumers also need to cut the amount of food they throw away, as £10bn worth was thrown out every year because of “best before” dates, he added.

While “use by” dates were important as they referred to when food ceased to be safe to eat, Mr Benn said “best before” dates served little purpose and could be ignored.

“There is “use by” and that is very important because that is food safety, but when it comes to “sell by” or “best before”, I think we as consumers [need to] understand better what those labels mean,” he said.

“In the past, long before any such labels existed, people would look at the food in the fridge or in the larder and decide whether it was okay to eat.

“Throwing that food away obviously costs us money and that’s not very sensible, and if it goes to landfill then it produces methane and that adds to the problem of climate change.”