Sir Andrew set for a new hit: Ostriches

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The Independent Online

The collapse in beef prices could make Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber another fortune; he has applied for permission to farm ostriches on his 4,000- acre Hampshire estate, which industry sources say could be home for up to 100 birds.

The composer has been considering the project ever since he ate an ostrich steak in an American restaurant. But his timing is seen as shrewd. "It is an unparalleled opportunity to provide the meat of the future," said Robin Higgins of the Ostrich Farming Corporation.

This year Britons are expected to eat 904,000 tons of beef and veal, a 25-per-cent decline in consumption since 1976. And while ostrich meat is still an expensive novelty in Britain, costing between pounds 9.95 and pounds 15 a pound, farmers are reporting a rocketing demand.

Sainsbury's, Tesco and Asda have all approached ostrich farmers, seeking an alternative, humanely farmed meat. But the problem is that there are no slaughterhouse facilities in the UK, which means the price of the meat remains high.

To supply just 10 per cent of the beef market, farmers would need 107,000 breeding birds. At present there are just 2,000 in the UK, with an eight- year-old hen costing pounds 14,000.

Ostrich meat, which tastes like fillet steak, and is eaten in many European countries, and has the lowest fat and cholesterol levels of any red, white or fish meat, except salmon.

Sir Andrew has said he will breed birds and sell them, but does not intend to send them directly to the slaughterhouse.