Half-price offer clears beef from shelves

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Thousands of people across the United Kingdom ignored the health scares of the past week and settled down to a traditional Sunday joint of roast beef yesterday.

On Saturday, all 363 Sainsbury's stores sold out of fresh beef, after shoppers flocked to buy it on special offer at half price. It was the first time in 125 years of trading that the supermarket chain was left with no beef on its shelves.

Bob Cooper, the company's trading director, said on Saturday night: "Over the last 12 hours we have sold more British beef than during the whole of the last 12 days combined."

Despite government warnings of a small risk of catching Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), the human equivalent of bovine spongiform enceph-alopathy (BSE), from infected cattle, shoppers at Sainsbury's superstore in New Cross Gate, south-east London, remained committed to British beef.

Julian Parkhurst, the deputy manager, said he had never seen beef sales like it. "All I have had is positive feedback from customers and no one has asked if there was anything wrong with it. It just goes to prove, if the price is right people will buy it," he said.

But he predicted that beef sales would be slow once the offer ended early next week.

Martin Crawley, 51, of Nunhead, said he was taking advantage of the offer and stocking up on beef. "I have not stopped eating British beef because there is nothing wrong with it," he said. "I'm going to have a roast joint for my Sunday dinner and put a few pieces in the freezer for later in the week."

Rebecca Jestico, 24, of New Cross, said: "I'm going to stock up on it at this price, especially as chicken and lamb has gone up."

Some shoppers remained unconvinced about the safety of beef. Steve Moss, 39, of Peckham, said: "Although it is cheap, I just don't know about eating it."

And David Sefton, of Culverstone, Kent, was more pessimistic. "My days are numbered, so I'll go on eating it anyway," he said.

A spokesman for Sainsbury's said the company's "Farm Assured" scheme, which guarantees meat supplies from farms to stores, had gone some way in securing customer belief in the safety of beef.

"It is fair to say that consumer confidence has returned and people are continuing to take advantage of this great offer," he said.