Exclusive Clive Beddall Food from Britain has begun talks with MAFF ministers about a major strategic "recovery plan" designed to revive international sales of UK food hit by the foot and mouth crisis. As dramatic TV images of flaming animal pyres are screened around the world, exporters are increasingly concerned that overseas sales of all UK food, not just products linked to the agriculture sector, will suffer. For, despite regular assurances from foreign-based UK diplomats that the crisis was an animal welfare issue rather than one of food safety, there is evidence that international shopper confidence in UK food is being hit. UK exporters returning from overseas say that consumers are being frightened off British food by the graphic images from the FMD crisis. One UK export executive, just returned from a trip to the Far East, told The Grocer on Wednesday: "A large number of overseas shoppers have been frightened by the dramatic reporting of the mad cow disease issue, and now FMD. We are rapidly becoming the lepers of the world'." However, The Grocer has learned that Food from Britain and MAFF are working on a plan which will use the expertise of FFB's 11 international offices and the power of the UK's regional Taste food groups' in a bid to restore market confidence at home and abroad. Directors from FFB offices in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, the US, Poland, Portugal, Scandinavia and Spain have been briefed and further talks with ministers are planned. David McNair, FFB chief executive, told The Grocer: "The whole of the UK food and drink sector is being tarred overseas by powerful images in relation to the crisis. "We had started talks with the ministry about plans to boost overseas food and drink sales even before the crisis began, so many of those ideas will be included in our efforts to rekindle interest once the crisis is over." FFB will also be working alongside the government's "rural recovery plan" to reinvigorate the UK market with key messages to consumers and traders, stressing the advantages of local food from the British countryside. However, McNair believes Britain's regional taste groups will provide valuable expertise in developing consumer and trade interest in local specialities as well as being the conduit for information to local press and other forms of direct marketing. Central feature of FFB's task is to persuade MAFF and, more importantly, the Treasury to stump up extra cash for a battle fund to revive sales of UK food and drink once the crisis over. However, agriculture minister Nick Brown indicated in an exclusive interview with The Grocer that money to support a revival of meat exports in particular would be available. FFB is seeking a pan-industry approach and informal discusions have been held with the NFU and the Countryside Agency. - See page 10 and Opinion, page 20. {{NEWS }}