Defra is looking to bring together retailers, meat processors and farmers at a ’beef summit’ to discuss falling farmgate prices and develop strategies for a sustainable British beef sector.

The move comes as farmers are becoming increasingly angry about low farmgate beef prices and retailers’ “broken promises” on post-Horsegate commitments to support British beef.

Farming minister George Eustice said the summit - planned for later this summer - would aim to help the supply chain work together more effectively. “Britain’s beef industry is hugely important for the farming sector,” he said. “Our summit will bring together all sections of the beef industry to discuss its long-term sustainability and how UK farmers, processors and supermarkets can work together better.”

Farmgate beef prices have fallen from about £4/kg deadweight last autumn to as low as £3.12/kg now, driven down by increased cattle numbers in the UK and Ireland and a drop in consumer demand.

UK and Irish farming unions held crisis talks about the situation this week. “We are all extremely concerned,” said NFU president Meurig Raymond, adding farmers felt retailers and foodservice operators were not doing enough to stimulate consumer demand and protect farmers from price volatility. “We are desperate to put a floor in the market so it doesn’t fall any further. Our message to retailers is, once farmer confidence is gone, you will struggle to source British beef further down the line.”

Given its high-profile commitments post-Horsegate, Tesco has faced especially strong criticism from farmers recently. Tesco UK MD and guest editor of The Grocer Chris Bush said the retailer was committed to working with farmers and ensuring the long-term sustainability of the UK beef sector. “We have good relationships with our producers, and that’s very important to us.”

But he warned farmers needed to understand the sector was facing fundamental challenges that needed to be addressed. “There is a challenge around the price of beef compared with other proteins that everyone needs to appreciate,” he said. “The reality is – other than mince – customers are struggling to engage with the red meat category.”