Eurostat, the European Union's statistical agency, has praised Europe's food industry for performing well regarding productivity, with growth from 1990-2000 being above that for manufacturing at 2.1% per annum.

The figures are split up amongst EU Member States and show that for the meat industry, the most efficient country was Denmark, at €46,100 (US$45,042) per person and the least efficient was Portugal at €14,700.

Regarding the dairy industry, most efficient was Germany at €61,000 per person and least efficient was Portugal, again, at €27,200. Portugal brought up the rear for other food industries, at €13,100 per person, while the UK was most efficient at €50,800.

The figures come in a paper on strengths and weaknesses in business in the EU. It said that the food and beverage industry was the most important national manufacturing sector (in 1999) in Britain, Denmark, Greece, Spain, Netherlands and Portugal.

By Keith Nuthall, correspondent