Abattoirs have denied allegations by the National Beef Association that they are engaged in cattle price manipulation.

The NBA said some farmers were "allowing themselves to be conned by a handful of influential abattoirs into thinking there is an oversupply of cattle."

Its chairman, Duff Burrell, claimed some abattoirs were "panicking finishers into selling cheaply by dropping prices and giving the impression there are huge queues," which he described as the oldest trick in the book. He also accused them of colluding on price.

Steers sold in the south sell for 202p/kg deadweight, even though customers are willing to pay 212p/kg for the same cattle further north. Farmers must sell their cattle more carefully, Burrell said.

But John Dracup, livestock director of major Welsh beef processor St Merryn Foods, said there was no truth in the allegations of price manipulation and that the comments were not realistic.

"Week on week we are quoting 15p per kilo more than we were 12 months ago, and this autumn it has been up to 30p per kilo dearer. We are buying significant numbers of cattle 52 weeks of the year and to achieve that we have to be paying a fair price or producers will choose not to supply us."

Richard Phelps, MD of Southern Counties Fresh Foods, said he was unaware of any price fixing. "The NBA should focus more of their efforts in working in partnership through schemes that up the value and the returns.

"Rather than average cattle at average prices we should be looking at better quality cattle and better quality prices."

Richard Ali, chief executive of Eblex agrees. "Farmers should know what market they are aiming at and, like any producer, make sure they are getting the best price for their product.