Scotch beef is renowned throughout the world for it’s superior eating quality, but it could soon be lost if the Scottish Government and the meat processors don’t wake up to the fact the sector is unsustainable for most in its current form.

Add to that the increasing amount of dairy-bred beef in the chain – 57% at present and fast increasing – and a carcase classification system that fails to recognise eating quality, and the entire UK beef industry at risk.

These were just a few of the stark warnings from industry representatives and farmers at last week's Beef Expo event staged at North West Auctions' Mart, Kendal.

Hitting out at the Scottish Government, Neil Shand, chief executive of the Simmental Cattle Society told The Scottish Farmer, not enough is being done to support the beef industry which is fast losing suckler cow numbers due to the huge increase in feed and fertiliser costs and declining finished ex-farm prices well below the cost of production.

“The Scottish Government needs to wake up to the fact that large numbers of suckler cows have already been lost in Scotland and more will go, unless something is done,” he said.

“The average suckler cow producer with 100 cows lost in the region of £30,000 through no fault of his own last year, which is completely unsustainable. Many beef farmers put cows away because they couldn’t afford to keep them through the winter, and those who did, paid heavily for it as a result of the increase in feed prices and the fall in the value of finished cattle which is way below the £4 per deadweight kg needed purely for producers to operate.”

Mr Shand added: “Richard Lochhead used to champion the amount of money being created by Scottish agriculture but Fergus Ewing has done nothing since he took over, and the industry has lost thousands as a result.”

He called for a Suckler-bred Beef Payment, to save an ailing industry which he said is fast losing out to other meats such as chicken and fish which are perceived to be better for the environment and people’s health when in fact Scottish beef, bred from beef animals off grass is almost carbon efficient with beef bred from continental cross animals shown to be more efficient than that of native-bred.

"There needs to be more joined up thinking to benefit the entire beef industry instead of solely concentrating on promoting individual breeds and we need to focus more on eating quality.

"Aberdeen-Angus is perceived to be the best quality beef in the world and attracts a premium over other breeds, but how can it be if it is bred from a Holstein cow? And, what does such inconsistent beef say to the consumer when she gets a bad eating experience from the increasing amount of dairy-bred beef in the food chain? Dairy-bred Angus beef can't compete with that of a pure beef animal of any breed," said Mr Shand.

And, hitting out at Quality Meat Scotland, he said more needs to be done to promote the entire beef industry instead of concentrating on farm management techniques.

Andrew Laughton, chairman of the National Beef Association, also warned of the effects of poor eating quality beef and how latest research has shown consumers who have had a bad eating experience can take up to 12 weeks before they will return to buying beef.

"We have got to do something about the quality and the consistency of the beef that is being produced in this country. We can produce finished beef from our farm in 446 days whereas the oldest beef at our local abattoir has been produced in 771days. Younger cattle provide a more consistent and better eating quality experience, and they reduce the amount of carbon emissions from the industry."

However, it was the EUROP grading system in abattoirs which provided most cause for concern at an open discussion on the Future of the Beef Industry. With up to 40-50p per deadweight kg of difference between between a U+3 carcase at the top end of the scale and a -04H carcase, which is perceived to be of poorer quality, but will yield a better eating quality experience, calls were made for a grading system that would provide premiums for taste, flavour and quality.

"If we are to increase the demand for beef, we need to change the grading system to produce beef of better quality, which consumers will pay for," he added.

Chris Mallon, chief executive of the National Beef Association was equally concerned for the future of the industry and stressed the need for an increase in finished prices.

"Store cattle are not too dear, it's the fat trade that's not high enough and while there are contracts out there for some, many of them are only there to guarantee some sort of throughput. Most of the contracts we see are not good enough as they provide just enough to live off and no more.

Contracts can be a great, but they have to be right in the first place."

Instead, he encouraged producers to hold off from sending finished cattle to abattoirs when prices were slipping, until values improve.