Fifty food companies currently considered "vital" in the event of a power crisis are set to lose that status under government plans.

In a shake-up of the contingency plan in place to deal with an electrical supply emergency, the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform says it wants to abolish the food category in the plan altogether so it can focus efforts on other, more vital organisations in the event of a crisis.

The 50 food manufacturers listed are currently exempted from rota arrangements requiring power to be switched off at factories for three hours at a time during severe shortages.

BERR defended its action by claiming these companies would have back-up supplies.

It added that it was not appropriate for these companies to enjoy special status when the emergency services and the armed forces did not. Removing the food list would help divert resources to these areas, it said.

With the food list abolished, food suppliers would have to apply to go on a list of companies that should be exempt from rota agreements but which do not qualify for automatic exemption.

Those that failed to qualify would be placed on a transitional list for three years before losing their special status altogether.

Under the proposals the criteria for being listed as "other" are set to be tightened up so a company would have to prove power disruption would cause in excess of £50m loss to its factories.

The government did not release the food list with the consultation.

Dairy UK's Ed Komorowski said the government's proposals made sense because most food manufacturers had back-up power supply arrangements in place.

But he added: "This is not the case for other vital supplies, such as fuel, so we would be concerned if the government treated this principle as a precedent for other areas."