Even England's most efficient beef and lamb farmers are making big losses, new figures from EBLEX show.

Only the top third of intensive beef finishers make any sort of profit. And suckler producers, vital in producing calves finished for the retail market, are losing an average £250-£300 per animal they sell. On the sheep side, only store lamb producers made a profit - barely more than £1 per animal on average.

The industry is still coming to terms with the loss of production subsidies and does not know its true costs of production, says Eblex boss Richard Ali.

The average kg of topside takes 61p out of extensive farmers' pockets. It all adds up to an increase in farm-gate prices - and retailers needed to make sure they were buying at a price which is right for the supply chain, Ali added. "I'm not aware of any retailers or suppliers who've said they don't want a sustainable livestock industry."

And supermarkets also had to tell shoppers more about their meat. "When the retailer provides the on-shelf offering, they should do so in a way that enables consumers to choose want they want," Ali said.

But farmers would have to cut costs. This year's costings are the first to collect figures on the 'non-cash' costs that plunge most producers into deficit. They include family labour, interest on capital invested and rental equivalent for owner-occupied land. "Intensive producers have started to improve, and others should follow," said Ali. "Cattle and sheep production have undergone significant change with CAP reform, and it takes time to adapt to the single farm payment."

But Ali said that it was not all bad news. "The top third of producers are in a position where they are close to net profits, which shows there is scope for them to change their business in a positive way."

Farmers also had to work more closely with abattoirs to supply animals they really wanted.

And with better communication along the chain, farmers would have to put more effort into marketing on quality.