The "mad cow" crisis yesterday began to take its toll on jobs as slaughterhouses stopped killing cattle and at least one plant closed.
Two of the country's largest companies laid workers off, sent others on holiday and announced redundancies. Leaders of the meat processing industry warned that in common with farmers they might also be seeking compensation.
Forfar Meat Traders, based at Dundee, became the first corporate victim, closing with the loss of 12 jobs. Mark Batchelor, director of the company blamed a "needless panic" on ministers. He said: "We have found it more and more difficult to continue trading with every BSE scare over the last few years. This scare has been the final nail in the coffin."
One of the leading companies, Anglo Beef Processors, axed 52 jobs, laid off 140 workers and sent more than 100 on leave for a week. ABP warned that could be more lay-offs to come.
Another leading company, Midland Meat Packers, of Crick, Northamptonshire, sent 150 employees on holiday for two weeks at the country's largest abattoir. Midland, part of the Baker Group, said it would re-evaluate the situation after Easter.
Midland said it had no immediate plans for redundancies and would "go to all lengths" to prevent job losses. The company had "an excellent reputation for quality" and complied with all British and European laws.
Alistair MacDougall of Irish-owned Anglo Beef Processors said the outlook for jobs in the short term was "fairly awful". He said: "We keep hoping that some sort of sanity will return. If it continues it is not just the farmers who will be seeking compensation but the processing industry."
The largest union in the industry, the Transport & General Workers, said it was being inundated with members concerned over their jobs and their health. The T&G said that the jobs of its 50,000 members in the industry were under threat.
A spokesman for the National Farmers' Union said some of their members were desperate to know how they were going to survive if the crisis continued. Some 70,000 holdings kept beef cattle and some meat came from dairy herds which were farmed in 42,000 locations.Reuse content