Defra has come under fire from the dairy industry for suggesting consumers should cut their dairy consumption by 30% in order to meet healthy eating guidelines.

Its Food Statistics Pocketbook 2012, published last week, compares the amount of food bought by UK households in 2010 (the most recent year for which statistics are available) with the healthy eating ideal of the Eatwell plate, which recommends guideline amounts for five food groups.

Defra concluded UK households were buying “too much milk and dairy foods - need to reduce by around 30%”.

This was met with disbelief by the industry.

Dairy Council director Judith Bryans said Defra’s methodology of matching purchasing data against Eatwell guidelines was unsound and warned cutting dairy by 30% would have a negative impact on the UK population’s intake of nutrients.

This was echoed by Jim Begg, director general of Dairy UK, who said government statistics were an important source of data for the industry and for consumers, “but they’ve got to be properly used and interpreted. In this case, after checking, I don’t believe they have.”

NFU chief dairy adviser Rob Newbery added dairy was “a vital source of nutrition in everyone’s diet.”

It is understood there is some consternation in Defra’s dairy team about how the guidance was phrased. However, Defra would not comment directly on the advice, saying only the government was “absolutely committed” to helping the industry take advantage of “the massive opportunities for growth” in the UK and abroad. “We’ll also be investing more than £7.5 million to help businesses improve infrastructure and access emerging markets to turn around our £1.2 billion dairy trade deficit,” a spokesman added.