The Fresh Produce Consortium has urged consumers not to limit their consumption of fruit and vegetables to UK seasonal produce – claiming Defra’s new Eat Seasonably campaign “imposes ridiculous restrictions on key indigenous staples of the UK diet”.

Eat Seasonably was launched last month by the environment ministry in conjunction major retailers including Sainsbury's and Tesco to encourage consumers to enjoy UK-grown fresh produce in season. But the FPC claimed the plan moves to limit consumption of fresh produce to their UK seasons would “undermine consumers’ interest in fresh produce” and drive shoppers towards highly processed food.

“We welcome this campaign’s focus on eating more fresh fruit and vegetables,” said FPC chief executive Nigel Jenney. “But we should not look to restrict consumers’ choice and deprive the nation of some of its favourite fruit and vegetables at certain times of the year by implying that produce grown indoors, imported or stored may not be as enjoyable or as responsible towards the environment.”

“We need to encourage the UK consumer to eat five-a-day and they need a wide variety of fresh produce regardless of origin to achieve this. We face a difficult challenge in terms of our nation’s health [and] should not be doing anything that limits choice in the face of this significant issue.”

He added: “If the Eat Seasonably campaign really wishes to make a significant difference to the environmental impact of our diet… then it should encourage people to reduce their meat consumption. It would have been just as easy to encourage consumers to be vegetarians one day a week.”