Meat traders march in battle to save beef-on-the-bone

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The Independent Online
Farmers and butchers were on the march in the capital yesterday in a last-ditch defence of beef-on-the-bone. Kim Sengupta witnesses their anger and frustration, and also discovers some intriguing plans to beat the ban.

There was no shortage of opportunities for sampling beef-on-the-bone in the centre of London yesterday. Westminster and its environs were awash with beef-on-the-bone of all shapes and sizes, along with the men who sell them. Steaks, ribs, and roasts were carried to the House of Commons and Downing Street by farmers and butchers on the last day before the ban. It was meant to highlight what is seen as an unnecessary and damaging knee-jerk reaction by the Government.

But some butchers are not content simply to take part in such public protests. It is their duty, they believe, to ensure that their customers continue to have the opportunity to buy beef-on-the-bone if they want to. The evidence of the demand, they say, is plain to see. Sales of beef- on-the-bone have shot up in the last weeks, in some cases by up to 300 per cent.

A few butchers claimed they would continue to sell the ribs and T-bone steaks whatever the law says. Perhaps understandably, they did not want to give out too much detail about their businesses, as the regulations published last night showed they could face unlimited fines or up to two years in prison for selling illegal beef. Steve, who owns two shops in Essex, said: "My punters know where I am, that's all that matters. They will not be doing anything illegal by buying."

Richard Askew, whose family owns Askew's Butchers in north London, was also willing to flout what he sees as an "un-democratic, dictatorial law". He stated: "I would be prepared to sell - one has to balance the cost of losing customers with the fines - but it's my father's shop and I don't think he would want to take the risk."

Some of his colleagues, however, believe they have found a method of avoidance rather than evasion. Paul Hambling, from Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, just happen to be "storing" for buyers. He said: "A lot of my customers have placed bulk orders for meat-on-the-bone and paid for them. I am simply storing for them. How can I be breaking the law if I am not selling anything after the ban?". Robin Dear, from Stoke Poges, in Buckinghamshire, confirmed that he too is looking after pre-paid bulk orders.

Meat trader George Faulkner was thinking of revenues from another direction. "How do you think a `beef-on-the-bone weekend' would go down? Trips to Dublin or Paris perhaps," he mused. "But we are going to get a lot of illegal traffic. I know people are planning to sell it door-to-door from back of vans just like duty-free booze from the Continent."

Last night, ministers hit back at such dissenters by publishing details of how the ban would work. Veal killed at under six months old would be exempt, they said. However, it was still not clear who would remove, store or dispose of the newly-illicit beef bones.

The butchers delivered a six-ribbed Scottish joint to the House of Commons where they were met by Tory Euro-sceptic William Cash. "There is 1,200,000 to one chance of getting CJD from eating beef-on-the-bone," said the MP. "I have more chances of being hit by an object dropped from the sky."

At that, a lone vegetarian heckled: "Even Shakespeare knew the danger of eating excessive red meat.In Twelfth Night he had Andrew Aguecheek saying `I am a great eater of beef, and I believe it harms my wit'."