“You can’t have a situation where ingredients originate from a different country, but are labelled as if they are British,” Begg told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
He was echoing comments made in April by Dairy Crest chief executive Mark Allen, who argued UK ‘health mark’ rules gave the impression Cheddar cheese imported into the UK was made here.
Begg supported the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs plan launched in May to reduce reliance on food imports.
‘Long term ambitions’
“Ultimately it has to be [from the UK] as long as the UK supply chain is sustainable. Import supply substitution is one of the long-term ambitions of the dairy industry.”
He went on to say that demand for locally sourced products offered an important area of development for the sector.
“The exploitation of British provenance seems to be a real opportunity to help us win greater share of markets, particularly in the cheese sector. Across business consumers want to support farmers and the industry and buying British is the one sure way they can do this.”
He said both export and domestic markets held further development potential for UK dairy farmers and processors. “Opportunities for growth should be in areas which maximise profitability. That may be in export markets. The domestic opportunity is almost certainly in added value.”
Industry had to “move to those parts of the world that are most competitive”, but the UK market should not downplay its benefits, he said. “We have natural advantages of climate, land and grass, fertile pastures that give us a head start over other parts of the EU and we have to exploit that properly.”
He denied that the era of the small UK dairy farmer or processor was dead and that the future only lay in the hands of large dairy cooperatives.
“There is a role for everybody. The skill of the manager is far more important than the structure of a business. Small businesses can be and are highly profitable, driven by efficiency and innovation programmes. Farm processors can exploit provenance and be winners in the marketplace.”
Begg announced he would be stepping down from his role last week, although he told FoodManufacture.co.uk he still intends to keep involved in the dairy industry.