THE National Beef Association (NBA) has called for the introduction of an agricultural ombudsman.

It follows an industry Beef Summit in London arranged by George Eustice, farms minister, to tackle the downward spiral in the beef price.

Although the NBA attended and welcomed the summit, it fears a suggested voluntary code of practice will lack teeth.

The code, which would govern issues such as the transparency of abattoir charges and notice periods, was one of the main areas for further discussion which came out of the meeting. Cheap imported beef and the clear labelling of beef’s country of origin were also discussed.

Chris Mallon, NBA chief executive, said: “It is clear that action is necessary to tackle the plunging prices of domestically- produced beef, and we welcome the sector coming together to find a way forward.

“Producer confidence has been badly shaken and it will take a long time to rebuild. The NBA does not believe a voluntary code is enough to provide stability. Any code needs to have an ability to police itself and have enforcement powers.”

The NBA believes the beef industry needs a producer ombudsman to oversee the relationship between producers and processors.

Mr Mallon said: “This would give producers greater confidenc they are being treated fairly, provide a forum to deal with complaints and have the power to enforce decisions.”

The beef industry, processors and retailers will meet again over the next few weeks to produce a report into the areas a new industry code of conduct should cover.

The issue of labelling was also raised. The government, lobbied by food producers, has backed away from demanding ready meals containing beef state its country of origin.