FARMING union leaders from the whole of the UK met in London on June 9 for a summit about the current beef situation.

Discussing wide-ranging issues from CAP through to abattoir charges, they were unanimous that the current downward spiral of farm gate prices is causing serious damage to farmers’ confidence.

Retailers, processors and caterers must all start to take responsibility for the decisions they make and the impact those decisions have on the sustainability of the beef sector.

Equally unanimous was the call for the promotion of British beef to the consumer by retailers and the need for long-term signals that instil confidence in the beef sector and an end to the short termism that damages confidence and will threaten the longtermfuture of the beef supply.

As an example of best practice among processors, Dovecote Park and Waitrose were praised for their ongoing commitment to their producers.

NFU president Meurig Raymond, pictured above, said: “With a reduced beef supply forecast as we reach the end of the year and with fewer cattle coming forward, there needs to be a change of attitude and a realisation that beef farmers have no option but to work to a long-term plan.

“It’s impossible to work to do that when everyone else is thinking in the short term.

“It is a cliché that we have used before, but the beef supply is not a tap that can be turned on and off at a moment’s notice.

“Consumers made it clear during ‘Horsegate’ that they value shorter supply chains, with provenance high on their agenda.

“At that time major retailers made statements of the importance of economically sustainable supply chains and a commitment to build confidence with producers for a longterm supply of beef.

“Now is the time that is going to test how deep those commitments run.”

Imports were also looked at and, while the level of beef imported from countries outside the EU remains small, and Irish beef continues to make up the majority (70 per cent), all UK union leaders stood united on the need for government and businesses to work to ensure any beef imports meet the same high standards as those asked of British- and Irish-assured beef.

It is critical that beef, and products containing beef, are labelled with the country in which that beef was produced, so that consumers can choose as to where the beef they are eating has come from.

NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe said: “For now we need to promote our product more widely, be it through the levy bodies working on export opportunities or through retailers for what should be one of their headline products.”