The President of the Irish Farmers Association has said a forum of beef industry representatives, chaired independently by the Minister for Agriculture, needs to meet immediately so proper discussions can take place on the future of the sector.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Eddie Downey said there needed to be contracts, security and transparency within the system and it was the minister's responsibility to put them there.

Mr Downey was commenting amid concerns over the potential impact of plans by British retailers to change the specifications of beef they are willing to buy.

He said the planned new restrictions are completely unacceptable and unworkable.

Mr Downey said Irish farmers prided themselves on grass-based beef production systems.

He said weight restrictions of below 16 months on bull beef meant that grass would be taken out of the equation.

Mr Downey said the current restrictions were unworkable, and to try and impose a lower age limit of less than 14 or 12 months was completely unacceptable and unworkable.

He said the Minister for Agriculture should make meat factories accountable to farmers.

Commenting on beef prices, Mr Downey said the UK and Northern Irish markets were starting to rise in price, but prices for Irish farmers continued to fall, and there was no justification for that.

A meeting organised by the Irish Farmers’ Association last night was warned by a meat factory director that the changes could cause serious problems for Irish farmers.

Last night’s meeting in Navan was the first of four regional meetings about the deteriorating beef crisis organised by the IFA.

The IFA leadership is under pressure from a group of members calling themselves Grassroots IFA who are concerned about the amount of power meat factories have over the industry.

They are worried about the price farmers get for beef, which has fallen by about €200 per animal compared with last year.

Many of those in attendance last night were angry and frustrated.

Attempts were made by some to prevent a representative from the beef industry from speaking at all.

When Padraig Browne, the Group Procurement Director of the Dunbia meat group, was allowed to speak he said some of main British retailers who buy Irish beef are planning to impose more rigorous specifications.

He said some are already imposing an even lower age limit for bull beef than the 16-month limit imposed last October.

He said that some retailers have imposed 14-month and even 12-month limits.

He added that the trouble that beef farmers are now suffering is the direct result of the fall-out from the horse meat scandal 18 months ago which has resulted in British retailers increasing their preference for British beef and changing the specifications of the beef they are willing to buy.

The response from the floor was that it was not Irish farmers who put horsemeat into beef burgers and other products, yet they are the ones who are now being forced to pay the price.

Mr Downey warned that the anger expressed at last night's meeting is going to get worse and warned that there is going to be a reaction unless there is a significant change.

Mr Downey said that this is the worst crisis the Irish livestock industry has ever gone through.

He said prices paid to beef farmers in the UK have stabilised, prices in Northern Ireland are rising, but prices in Ireland for beef farmers are still falling.

He said Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney must help the sector and that he needs to be reminded that he is the minister for farmers not the minister for the beef industry.

Mr Downey said that retailers in the UK should not be allowed to dictate the standards and prices for Irish beef and he warned that farmers’ anger and frustration is at boiling point.

Bord Bia beef expert Joe Burke pointed out that the typical price being paid by factories for Irish beef is now about €3.62 per kilo, down from €4.20 this time last year.

Farmers say that this means that they are down about €200 per animal sold, which means that they are operating at a significant loss.

About 53% of Irish beef exports go to the United Kingdom.