The Hexham-based National Beef Association has renewed calls for the creation of an Agricultural Ombudsman to ensure both producers and the country’s food supply are protected.
The organisation, which is recognised as the beef cattle industry’s consultative body, first suggested such a move last year as beef prices plummeted.
Now, it says, the farmgate milk price crisis has once again highlighted the need for an appropriate intervention in the market.
NBA chief executive Chris Mallon said: “Britain really needs to consider and protect its domestic food producers, because there is so much global competition for food.
“The reality is that if primary producers are forced out of the industry, people we will go hungry. If more dairy farmers decide to leave the industry, our children will go thirsty.
“Dairy farmers are only doing what they were told they needed to do - they expanded their businesses and now their prices have collapsed. We saw the same situation in the beef sector last year; as soon as we increased production in response to supply and demand, the processors cut prices.
“This treatment of our primary producers cannot continue and the Government needs to take action now.”
The NBA first issued calls for an Agricultural Ombudsman at last year’s Beef Summit, after a dramatic decline in prices left many farmers questioning whether they had a sustainable future in the industry.
Since then, the Government has created a Grocery Code Adjudicator to rule on issues between the major supermarkets and their suppliers after a sustained campaign by producers.
According to the NBA, an Agricultural Ombudsman could have similar powers, ensuring all parties keep to their sides of the bargain.
Crucially, it says, the body would give primary food producers the confidence to invest in their businesses going forward, allowing them to expand to meet the UK’s growing demand for food.
Currently, it claims, the set up of the beef sector combined with the availability of cheap, inferior imports means farmers can see the prices they are paid drop dramatically while consumers notice little difference in their supermarket shopping bills.
Mr Mallon said: “Last summer’s Beef Summit suggested a voluntary code of practice for the industry, but sadly, we have seen that in practice this simply does not work.
“We need a watchdog with teeth for the entire agricultural sector to look at contracts between primary suppliers and primary producers - whether that is beef, lamb, eggs, milk or vegetables - to make sure both sides keep to their side of the bargain.
“The relationship needs to be put on a formal footing and the Government is the only one with the power to do this, perhaps by extending the remit of the Grocery Ombudsman.
“With a General Election coming up in May, let’s hope the next Government will put Britain’s future food security near the top of its priority list.”