Beef sales 'never likely to make full recovery'

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Beef consumption in Britain is never likely to return to levels prior to the breaking of the mad cow crisis on 20 March, Douglas Hogg, the Minister for Agriculture, said yesterday.

Mr Hogg's unscripted admission at a trade lunch was the more surprising as the beef industry itself is "cautiously optimistic" that sales are returning to near-normal. It was disclosed on Monday that more than 300 schools in North Yorkshire are putting beef back on the menu.

Describing BSE as a "dark shadow" over the farming and food industry, Mr Hogg told the British Meat Manufacturers' Association: "I cannot say by how much, but I believe that there is likely to be a permanent decline in beef eating as a result of what has happened."

Beef consumption plummeted after the admission of a possible link between BSE and its human equivalent, CJD, but it is now back to within 15 per cent of normal. Consumers remain shy particularly of cheaper cuts, mince and manufactured beef products. Stephen Goodwin