As sales of poultry, pork and fish soared, the association said: "There is a currently an unquantifiable risk in eating beef." It urged that the Government should make more information available to the public "as a matter of extreme urgency".
Following the warning, the Meat and Livestock Commission, the beef's industry representative group, admitted for the first time that cows infected with BSE could have entered the food chain. In its first published assessment of the risk to humans, the MLC said the risk of exposure to infected food was "one in 1.2m". But it said on that basis that between 1986 and 1989 fewer than 50 people might have been exposed to infected food.
Although the impact of the World Health Organisation's plans for an unprecendented emergency meeting will have serious impact on Britain's global trade, the announcement at home by the Co-op that it is considering buying beef from abroad for the first time in its 150-year history created further panic among retailers.
The Co-op, which has 3,000 stores, said it will be looking for alternatives. "There is an opportunity to import beef from abroad from Australia, New Zealand and South America," said the company. The firm said the Government had failed to give firm guidelines with respect to the consumption of beef .
Tesco said that its beef was sourced from 18 different suppliers, 11 from the UK and the remainder from the Irish Republic. Country of origin was clearly market on all its products.
No decision had yet been taken to buy beef from elsewhere
Sainsbury's said that all of the beef in its stores came from the UK and the Irish Republic but "all of our buying policies are under review". The Irish Prime Minister John Bruton said people were moving over to Irish beef following the new BSE health scare in Britain.
Throughout yesterday cattle sales again plummeted at markets throughout the country. Auctioneers at Ruthin, North Wales, described prices as "disastrous", with only 34 beasts offered for sale compared with about 200 on an average day.
At Derby and Ross-on-Wye, prices fell by up to pounds 140 per animal. Carlisle, the biggest market in the country, saw prices pounds 90 down on last year.
A Lincolnshire slaughterhouse is to be the first in Britain to be prosecuted under anti-BSE regulations designed to prevent infected bovine offal getting into the food chain.
The prosecution follows the alleged discovery of unmarked bovine offal at a processing plant producing animal feed.
A horse slaughterer, Neil Richard Pawson, trading as H Pawson and Son at Station Road, Donington on Bain, Lincolnshire, is to stand trial at Louth magistrates' court on 13 May. He faces charges related to the non- staining of specified bovine offal removed from cattle carcasses.Reuse content