The growing craze for high protein, low carbohydrate slimming regimes such as the Atkins diet is threatening the market for one of the staple foods of the West - bread.
Consumption of bread plummeted in America in the past year with an estimated 40 per cent of Americans eating less than in 2002. The US bread industry is to hold a crisis "bread summit" tomorrow to discuss measures to curb falling sales. In Britain, the Federation of Bakers launched a promotional campaign last month to counter the Atkins effect. British Bread month was advertised with the slogan "Use your loaf, have another slice."
Sales of sliced and wrapped bread have been declining by 2 per cent a year for the past three years in the UK. John White, a spokesman for the federation, said: "The impact of Atkins in the US is of concern to UK businesses. Everyone seems to be on it."
In America, Patrick Davis of the National Bread Leadership Council, which organised the summit, said that it was unclear whether the fall in bread sales was a temporary blip or indicative of a more permanent change in eating habits. The average American eats 54lbs of bread a year, barely a third of the quantity consumed by the French and Italians. But the Italians and the French are not notably obese, Mr Davis said.
While bread sales are falling, sales of meat, eggs and fruit are rising. In Britain, consumption of beef has risen from 739,000 tons in 1997, when the Atkins diet was first published in Britain, to 990,000 tons last year.
Although the diet has been widely condemned by doctors and nutritionists, an estimated 32 million Americans are on low carbohydrate, high protein diets according to a survey.
The Medical Research Council (MRC) in Britain has warned that the basis of the Atkins diet is questionable and it could be dangerous. Dr Susan Jebb, head of nutrition at the MRC, said: "It is an unknown risk. The diet is nutritionally incomplete."