The bosses of Britain's top five food retailers are among those invited to attend an emergency beef summit being hosted by sustainable farming minister Lord Bach on Friday.

The minister said it was widely recognised that the beef industry was facing some difficult times at present. He added: "Beef prices are low but that's not due to lack of demand. I understand how producers feel. But there's a great future for British beef and I want us to work out how we get there.”

He would not be drawn on the agenda for his summit meeting, which will also be attended by farmers and processors, but said the meeting would not be a talking shop.

"Everyone wants to see a successful British industry for beef. Everyone will be giving us their ideas but I want to end that meeting with some sort of plan of action for the months ahead."

However, he stressed it was not up to the government to interfere with the workings of the market - particularly when it came to dealing with what he called the "worrying" trend for increasing imports from countries such as Brazil.

He added: "I want government to do what it can. But government by itself can't solve these problems. It's very much for industry to sort them out. We are extremely sympathetic and want to help as much as we can. But there are no simple solutions; we can't wave a magic wand."