Supermarkets ready to sell meat from vaccinated herds

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The Independent Online

As the argument over introducing a limited vaccination programme continues between farmers and the Government, supermarkets were preparing to sell produce from vaccinated livestock yesterday.



As the argument over introducing a limited vaccination programme continues between farmers and the Government, supermarkets were preparing to sell produce from vaccinated livestock yesterday.

The large chains are preparing information leaflets and telephone hotlines in the biggest test of consumer confidence since the BSE crisis sent meat sales plummeting.

It will also show to what extent British consumers have confidence in the Food Standards Agency, which was set up post-BSE, and which has offered reassurances on the safety of products from inoculated animals.

The British Retail Consortium, which represents Britain's main food and drink retailers, has pledged its support to a limited vaccination scheme ­ provided customers are still prepared to buy British meat and dairy products.

A consortium spokesman said: "The supermarkets have become experts at listening to their customers and it will not [take long] for them to determine whether there is consumer confidence in British farm products."

Apart from an instore information-offensive, shoppers are unlikely to notice any immediate effects of vaccination. Vaccinated products will be free of labels but there are unlikely to be any price rises as the suggested vaccination programme ­ either in Devon or Cumbria ­ represents only a tiny fraction of the UK's dairy output.

The large supermarket chains ­ who were accused by Tony Blair at the beginning of the foot-and-mouth crisis of having farmers in a "headlock" ­ are proving more co-operative than businesses who depend more heavily on exports.

The Food and Drink Federation has warned that vaccination would deliver a serious blow to the export of food and drink, which is worth an annual £9bn in the UK.

Exporters are currently hampered by a European Union ban on British meat products and pasteurised milk to prevent the spread of the disease. Vaccination would lead to an extension of that ban until the beginning of 2003, the FDF believes.

But exporters are also concerned the move would provide non-EU countries with a reason ­ however spurious ­ to impose further trade restrictions.

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