Food from Britain is to take over responsibility from Defra for initial processing of applications by UK food companies that want European protected status for their products.

The agency, which already carries out the regional food programme for Defra, will advise companies whether or not it is worth their while applying, and provide advice and support to companies who do go through the process. Actual applications to the European Commission for protected status will still have to be channelled through Defra.

The move is part of Defra's drive to increase the number of British food companies covered by the European Protected Food Names Scheme.

There are currently just 36 British foods with protected status - while other major countries score far higher, such as France with nearly 150 protected products.