Defra is supporting an EU proposal that could see the manufacture of some ready meals restricted to the geographical area where the recipes originated.

Currently, meals can be protected under the EU’s Traditional Speciality Guaranteed scheme but cannot be tied to a geographical area. France has now suggested allowing the protection of commercially prepared meals - such as cassoulet from South West France - under the PDO and PGI schemes, which give geographical protection to foods.

“Producers of certain traditional or speciality recipes could benefit from geographically protecting their foods,” a Defra spokesman said. Dishes would, however, need an enduring link with a specific area and not be generic or made widely across a country.

Protection of dishes such as the Birmingham balti or Scouse (a Liverpudlian stew) would make a “useful contribution” to local food tourism, said UK Protected Food Name Association chair Matthew O’Callaghan.

Only products - as distinct from full meals - can currently gain geographical protection.