UK food producers should wake up to the fact that cheap imports are a fact of life, a leading trade figure has warned.

"In the short term at least demand for cheap, good quality food will increase and if the UK can't produce it then there will be more imports. Food is different to other industries such as textiles - but perhaps it is not all that different," Arthur Reeves, chairman of the Provision Trade Federation, told the 800 or so people at its annual dinner last night.

And he added: "We must not waste valuable time and energy forcing the debate in the other direction because that's not want consumers want."

Reeves explained it would be impossible for the UK to become completely self sufficient in food production - unless it withdrew from the EU and restricted the choice of products available on shop shelves.

He pointed to the dairy sector where the UK was still 90% self sufficient in dairy products - but said that had been achieved only through heavy subsidies of milk production. With the introduction of the Single Farm Payment system, all that was changing, and he warned that in a few years time being 90% self sufficient in dairy products could be seen as a high point for the industry.

Meanwhile, Reeves said the unrelenting increases in energy and raw materials costs would impact shop prices, despite the efforts of producers to minimise the effects of these hikes.