AN INDUSTRY leader described the conference as a "call to arms".

Robin Tapper, NFU head of food and farming, said he found the whole issue of connections within the red meat industry a great cause of frustration.

The Curry report had described it as one of the most important issues to be tackled. "My frustration is that the report came out three years ago and we are still talking the same story, nothing has changed very much at all," he said.

He warned that the bus was standing at the stop. The sector had to jump on board now - no other bus would come along.

He was "frustrated and rather bored" with CAP reform and repeated discussions on what was, or was not, permanent pasture; the position of the moorland line and the question of field boundaries. These would all be resolved but none had any bearing on how beef producers would make a living.

Decoupling would have a major impact on the whole food chain because, for the first time in 60 years, farmers would not be paid to produce.

"If they are not being paid and do not have a market, they will quickly come to the view that they will give up producing," he said. "I do think we have got to think where our market lies."

Consolidation, linked to CAP, was moving rapidly in the dairying and horticulture sectors. "It is not yet in the red meat sector because it is more disparate, but I think it is coming," he said. "We have been shown what Asda is doing with lamb, and I know other supermarkets are talking of red meat initiatives to try and get some degree of transparency in the system."

Mr Tapper ended by appealing to producers to talk up the industry and stop slagging off customers. He knew of no other industry which so openly knocked its customers.