THE slump in farm gate prices for beef has been highlighted at a House of Commons select committee inquiry.

The NFU and National Beef Association (NBA) raised the plight of beef producers to members of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee.

Stuart Roberts, NFU vice-president, said: "We are at a point where the farm gate price for prime cattle has fallen way below the cost of production. This is causing huge financial pressure for beef producers across the UK, who have so far lost £170 million at the farm gate.

"If farmers don't start to see fair returns soon many will start to leave the sector. The threat to the British beef industry is amplified by the very real possibility of a no-deal Brexit, which would mean farmers are faced with a huge tariff of 84 per cent on beef products going into the EU, their biggest trading partner.

"We now need urgent action from government and the whole supply chain to improve transparency, update the pricing structure and better promote our products if we are to reverse the dire situation many farmers find themselves in through no fault of their own."

Chris Mallon, NBA chief executive, said more must be done to protect the future of British beef farming or it would "literally disappear."

Questioning why so little of the retail price was reaching consumers he said: "Our share as producers should be in the mid-50 per cent of the share of the consumer price and this now down to 46 per cent.

Neil Parish, committee chairman, said: "We can't work out why farmers are getting substantially less and the consumer is paying only a little less than before – not even a noticeable amount."

Tom Kirwan, managing director of ABP Beef (UK), said prices were now being reflected on the High Street but Mr Mallon said the retail price had only dropped by one per cent while the producer price had fallen 11 per cent.

He said: "It is us the farmer that is suffering. There is money somewhere between us and the consumer. No farmer feels they are getting a fair share of the price."

He claimed farmers were being exploited due to a lack of competition in the market place. "That lack of competition means we do not have people fighting to buy the cattle as abattoirs are so small in number, so farmers have very limited options as to where they can sell their cattle."

The NBA and NFU both believe there should be a mandatory code under the Agriculture Bill as the current voluntary code "isn't working."

"We also have a serious need for anonymity in the complaints process as the producer has no protection in the market unless he wants to make a complaint and risk himself," said Mr Mallon.

On the future, he said: "Without a change, we will lose some of the best farmers we have as they will have to make a tough decision. They cannot afford to invest in cattle anymore - it is not viable to lose money week on week.

"We need to maintain the younger generation of beef farmers. The way things are we could lose that generation and once you've not farmed, you're not going to go back to it."

He and Mr Roberts said the public and the prices paid to farmers should recognise the quality of the product they were producing.