A million families may have stopped buying red meat

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The Independent Online

A million families may have given up red meat because of health fears prompted by the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

A million families may have given up red meat because of health fears prompted by the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

The Meat and Livestock Commission said yesterday that meat sales had fallen by up to 15 per cent, and appealed for the Government to inject £25m into a marketing effort to shore up the troubled industry.

The findings, part of research by the commission into the long-term impact of the epidemic on the livestock industry, raise fears about the future of Britain's red meat market, which is worth about £11bn a year.

The evidence of the slump in consumer demand was presented in a meat industry recovery plan submitted to members of the Commons Agriculture Select Committee.

The commission found that the sight of funeral pyres burning in the countryside had revived fears over food safety that had begun with revelations about "mad cow" disease being passed on to humans.

The recovery plan suggested a combination of advertising, promotion and public relations work to "signify a return to normality for consumers". The commission said: "New research we have undertaken tells us that consumer confidence in red meat has been rocked by the graphic visual images of foot-and-mouth disease represented by the media, particularly funeral pyres and the tipping of dead animals.

"Among some consumers, this has served to rekindle concerns about meat and farming practices, suppressed since the BSE outbreak of 1996 and its aftermath. Sales and household purchase data indicate that some 1 million households may have stopped purchasing beef, lamb or pork in the short term." A commission spokesman said a marketing plan had to go hand in hand with efforts to reform farming practices and the meat supply chain.

Ministers have already made clear that an overhaul of the agriculture industry is now likely.

The commission said it was pleased the Government had sought consultation on the feeding of pigswill, which may have been the source of the latest outbreak, but said: "More needs to be done. Consumers will expect nothing less."

The emotional impact of foot-and-mouth was also shown in a television advertisement launched by the Samaritans support group yesterday.

The 30-second film is aimed at persuading those affected by the foot-and-mouth crisis that there is no shame in seeking help. Simon Armson, the chief executive of the Samaritans, said: "We can provide a light at the end of the tunnel for those enduring enormous emotional distress as a result of the rural crisis and who may be worried about loss of livelihood."