'Mad cow' fear sends price of beef crashing

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The Independent Online

The price of beef continued to fall at cattle markets throughout Britain yesterday, and the blame was being put squarely on the latest BSE scare.

Normally prices at this time of year would be rising in the run up to Christmas, with high- quality animals being brought to market. Instead prices were down by around 3 per cent compared to a week ago, according to the Meat and Livestock Commission.

''This fall is quite significant at a time when prices are usually at their firmest,'' said Duncan Sinclair, an economic policy analyst with the commission.

More than a dozen auctions were held yesterday and on average the price per kilogram fell 4p to just over 120p. That fall wipes pounds 25 off the price of a 600kg steer, which usually fetches over pounds 700. Only at Louth in Lincolnshire, one of yesterday's largest markets, did prices rise - by 4p a kilo compared to the previous week's prices.

The Meat and Livestock Commission said it was likely that butchers would try to boost sales by cutting prices.

Prices have fallen because dealers are expecting a big drop in demand from the supermarkets and superstores who now sell most of Britain's beef to shoppers.