The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) backed prime minister Gordon Brown's vision of the UK as a world leader in modern manufacturing at a Labour party conference fringe event in Bournemouth.
Food Manufacture was the FDF's media partner for the event, The food industry - feeding the nation and its economy. Addressing attendees at the meeting, which was also organised by the GMB trade union, FDF director general Melanie Leech said: "This is a particularly timely debate, given the vision outlined by Gordon Brown that he wants the UK to become a world leader in modern manufacturing, drawing on the talents of all to create British jobs for British workers. An aspiration we would clearly share."
Leech said food safety, health and wellbeing and sustainability & competitiveness were the three major policy concerns for the FDF. It had restructured itself around these three areas at the beginning of the year, she said.
"This is the first fringe event we have run as FDF and in doing so we wanted to step back from many of the specific issues we are dealing with - whether on health or packaging or food safety - to take a broader view of the role of our industry and the positive contribution it makes to the economy and society as a whole," said Leech.
"Thanks to our industry, consumers have access to a wider choice of food and drink products that are safer, of better quality and better value than ever.
"In 2006 alone, almost 5,000 new food and drink products were launched in the UK. And, showing how responsive we are to consumer needs, 40% of those 5,000 products were launched on a health proposition such as additive free or lower in salt."
Leech said the food and drink industry made a crucial contribution to society. "When you look at the number of people who rely on this industry for their jobs, either directly or indirectly, it really is staggering. A very crude piece of maths would suggest that 2,600 jobs in every constituency are dependent on the food industry in one form or other."
Food and drink manufacturers, she said, were "committed to making a positive contribution to the debates about how we improve the health of the nation and, increasingly, the health of the planet". If the industry continued to thrive, she said it should be seen as a "willing partner by those looking to find solutions to these very complex issues"
Also speaking at the event were Stephen Timms MP, minister of state for competitiveness, David Lammy MP, parliamentary under-secretary of state for skills, Professor Bruce Traill from Reading University, Keith Hazlewood, national secretary with the GMB.