The National Beef Association is calling for the establishment of a ­government-backed beef taskforce to "turn the UK industry around".

The taskforce would be similar in structure to the pigmeat supply chain task force set up in March 2009 by Defra and the fruit and vegetables taskforce established in October 2009.

It would provide the opportunity for all stakeholders in the supply chain to come together to tackle some of the important issues facing the industry, said NBA national director Kim-Marie Haywood. "There are many things that need looking at to turn this industry around."

Beef farmers had recently had to cope with a 20% rise in the price of diesel and "a massive increase in feed costs". The quality of beef sold at retail also lacked consistency and not enough was being done at retail to add value to beef cuts. "It's deeply concerning that you can go into a supermarket and not see a cut of beef or a steak, you just see packets and packets of mince." If something was not done to address the issues facing the sector, "farmers will leave in droves," she warned.

However, she admitted, the beef sector was more structurally complex than the pig sector which only had about six major processors and the beef task force would need to be restricted in terms of who sat on it. The number of issues addressed would need to be honed down to just two or three major ones, she added. Potential topics could ­include educating farmers over how to improve environmental performance, and how to increase consumption levels.

The NBA held discussions with food and agriculture minister Jim Paice in the summer and has also spoken to Richard Lochhead MSP about ­setting up such a group.

Haywood said she intended to hold further talks with Paice who had been preoccupied with the launch of the TB eradication consultation on progress in coming weeks.

The total English breeding cattle herd fell by 27% between 1990 and 2009.