The NFU has reacted with anger to changes agreed to the European beef regime to cope with a drop in the beef market in mainland Europe.

NFU President Ben Gill has criticised the European Commission for continuing to push changes to the regime, agreed at a meeting of the Agriculture Council in Luxembourg.

The Commission proposals have at best not understood the current needs of the industry and society and at worst threatened to serve a major blow to an industry that has suffered severely in recent years, he said.

Given the current level of suffering, last night's outcome will be extremely disappointing for the UK's beef industry. But the package is considerably less damaging than original proposals put forward in the New Year.

He said: "Simply applying yet more sticking plaster to a regime that is so clearly out of date, so heavily bureaucratic and so market distorting is a disappointment. But it is also a failure by the Commission to recognise the problems at the heart of the Common Agriculture Policy."

Of all the points agreed, the most misguided decision refers to the reductions in the stocking density limits over the next two years, he said. This significantly further disadvantages British beef producers, in particular the lowland livestock sector, while yielding no real benefits for the environment.

Mr Gill added: "It is not only bad news for UK beef producers, it is bad news for consumers who want more high quality British beef on the supermarket shelf."

NFU Livestock Committee Vice Chairman Ian Frood said: "Farmers cannot plan for the development of a long term sustainable beef business when they get such mixed messages from the Commission.

"It is astonishing that the Commission should continue to attack beef production from the suckler herds and other traditional grassland based beef production systems. British beef producers will ask what they have done to deserve such treatment particularly given their efforts to restore beef consumption in the UK.

"This is a deeply disappointing outcome for the UK from a totally unsuitable package of EU proposals. Reductions in stocking rates will result in further cuts in financial support for lowland beef producers."