The farm industry must unite in the face of the horsemeat scandal to promote British food to the government and consumers, according to the National Sheep Association.

The association’s chairman, John Geldard, said the horsemeat scandal should be the “catalyst to create an alliance of farmer organisations that can support the government in meeting our future food challenges”.

Mr Geldard has invited major UK farming organisations and unions to a summit meeting, which is currently planned for next week in London.

“It is clear the farmer’s voice is not being heard well enough by the government and farming ministers,” said Mr Geldard. “Yet we are the foundation of the food supply chain, without whom the consumer would be hungry.

“An alliance would make sure the government listens to the views of core food producers,” he said.

Mr Geldard, who farms in Cumbria and set up a regional food hub in the wake of the foot-and-mouth crisis of 2001, said the government had let farming down.

“We have tried hard to promote the food security warnings of the UK’s chief scientific adviser John Beddington. The horsemeat scandal is evidence that our government has failed to listen. It is a shameful disgrace that on 1 January 2012 they failed to support UK egg producers when they were ready for the ban on battery cages and the rest of Europe wasn’t,” he said.

“And that, on 1 January 2013, our government and Brussels failed to implement the law and protect the UK pig producers who were working within it. Now we hear that for the past two to three months sheep farmers, already struggling with the impact of the weather on lamb prices, were unknowingly competing with high volumes of horsemeat distorting the market,” Mr Geldard added.

“These are all reasons why the farming industry should not be prepared to just listen to messages from the government and Food Standards Agency to retailers, but needs to stand up and present its own case to protect both ourselves and UK consumers.”

More on this topic

For more on the horsemeat scandal see our special report