Production of beefburgers was halted by the frozen-food company Birds Eye yesterday as the effects of the collapse in consumer confidence caused by the BSE scare reverberated through the food industry.
Airlines and some hospitals and restaurant chains also joined the move away from British beef, but most supermarket chains said they would continue to stock it and it will remain on the menu at Buckingham Palace.
The decision by Birds Eye to suspend beefburger production at its plant in Lowestoft, Suffolk, which employs 1,000 people, was another blow for farmers. But the company said it would not lead to redundancies. A statement said: "Whilst we remain confident about the quality and safety of our beef products, we have decided that, in the light of continued consumer concerns, we are reviewing the use of British beef and are considering options such as alternative sourcing and product reformulations."
Virgin Atlantic yesterday banned British beef. A spokeswoman said: "We have decided to remove all beef products from our flights leaving the UK. This is due to the level of public concern." The decision follows bans by British Airways and British Midland. A BA spokesman said: "This was in acknowledgement of our passengers' concerns ... we have readjusted our menus. We still offer beef where beef is an option, such as Argentinian beef or Scottish beef which has been farmed organically."
A spokesman for Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital Trust in London said: "We have taken beef off the paediatric menu but on the adult menu it is not sourced from within the UK ...None of our patients wanted to eat British beef."
At the John Radcliffe Hospital Trust, Oxfordshire, a spokesman said: "We have not taken it off the menu, because we have had no directive to from the Department of Health and because at the end of the day it is up to patient choice."
A spokeswoman for the Beefeater restaurant chain said it was continuing to serve British beef: "Where it is on the menu we inform the customers, so that they can make an informed decision."
Tesco, Safeway, Sainsbury and Marks & Spencer said they would continue to sell British beef, stressing that they bought only the best-quality meat and that products would be clearly labelled.
A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: "Beef is on the menu ... But the situation is being constantly monitored and the Queen will act on any advice received from ministers."