Leading politicians and civil servants were warned last night that cheap imported meat posed a serious threat to the UK's livestock industry.

And Peter Barr, chairman of the Meat and Livestock Commission, said: "Talking about food security has become unfashionable. But cheap imported meat today, at the price of home production, could mean no meat tomorrow."

Barr's blunt message came at the MLC's annual Westminster BBQ, attended by ministers, MPs, Lords and civil servants.

The MLC chairman also criticised imported meats for failing to meet the production and welfare standards required of UK farmers, and added: "We need to ensure fair trade as well as free trade."

And he warned that some imported meat - particularly that produced in South America - was causing untold environment damage through the destruction of the rain forest.

"In these troubled and fast-changing times of climate change, terrorism and the threat of pandemic disease, we must not become over-reliant on sourcing our food from abroad. We acknowledge there needs to be imports. However, we must not lose our capability to produce our own food," he said.