Paris struggles to stem tide of worry

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The Independent Online

French farmers yesterday appealed to consumers to buy beef to prevent the total collapse of the French beef sector, as panic about the possible spread of mad cow disease to humans took hold across the Channel. Despite efforts by French politicians and food producers to reassure consumers that only British beef held a risk, Europe's biggest carnivores were spurning even home-produced meat.

Orders for beef fell by 35 per cent in the first two days of the week and the wholesale market outside Paris was glutted with unsold carcasses. School canteens were reported to be buying no beef, while shoppers and restaurateurs were preferring other meats, or fish. Beef orders from abroad suffered, with Italian customers cutting their orders by half.

Luc Guyau, president of the France's biggest farmers' union, the FNSEA, said consumer panic could "prompt the collapse of the whole beef sector" and called for financial help for producers from Brussels.

The agriculture minister, Philippe Vasseur, said he had appealed to Brussels for financial help to prevent the collapse of Europe's beef market.

President Jacques Chirac said France would "consider positively the idea of EU financial support" to compensate British farmers for the slaughter of their herds.

There were also reports of two "suspect" cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in France, one of them in Lyons, centre of the most meat and offal centred cuisine in the country. Both victims were said to be young people.