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Defra, the food and rural affairs ministry, has announced plans to withdraw funding from the body responsible for promoting British food overseas, causing an outcry from struggling food manufacturers.

Food From Britain (FFB), which was founded in 1983 to promote exports of UK-produced food and drink, will be wound up at the end of March next year following a review by Defra.

During its existence FFB helped turn Quorn, the vegetarian meat alternative, into a household name in the US. It also helped Tyrrells Crisps, the upmarket snack company, crack the French market with its parsnip chips, even though the French traditionally see parsnips as food for pigs.

Lady Sylvia Jay, the chairman of FFB, expressed her disappointment at the withdrawal of funding. She said Defra had initially said it would stop funding in 2011, but that an internal decision was "reluctantly" taken by FFB this week to wind up the organisation at the end of March 2009.

One high-profile food industry executive said: "The penny-pinchers at Defra have pulled all funding from Food From Britain. It shows a lack of commitment from the Government to supporting its biggest manufacturing sector, just a week after the Chancellor stood up in the Commons in the Budget and said he was committed to supporting industry."

A Defra spokesman said that over the years FFB had "provided excellent support" to exporters of food and drink. "But this is not a priority area for Defra, and ministers felt that the money that we have been giving to FFB could be used to better effect elsewhere. They have also decided that Defra should no longer provide subsidised advice for individual businesses and this has been another factor in the decision.

"FFB has done a good job in helping to raise the profile and importance of the regional food sector. Having done so, we believe it can now be left to others such as the regional development agencies and regional food groups to take activity forward," he added.

FFB gets about ?5m a year from Defra. It has nine "private sector" offices in Europe and the US, which FFB said will continue to support British food companies doing business in their markets.

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