Britain struggles to get past crisis of confidence in beef


March 29, 1996
Web posted at: 1:20 a.m. EST (0620 GMT)

From Correspondent Margaret Lowrie

GUILDFORD, England (CNN) -- Britain Thursday banned the sale of beef from older cows, which are believed to be at greatest risk of carrying Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease.

The government also announced a $130 million aid package to the devastated beef industry. In the stockyards, where British cattle are sold for slaughter, the pens have been empty for more than a week.

Britain's meat industry desperately wants to restore public confidence in its products. In an attempt to figure out how to do that, farmers, slaughterers, cattle auctioneers, and others in related industries gathered together at a livestock market in Guildford Thursday.


It was a chance for them to air their concerns over the collapsing beef industry and to try to figure out a way out of their deepening crisis -- one which was dealt with only temporarily by the government's ban on the sale of meat from cows more than 30 months old and financial aid for farmers.

Nobody knows whether or not it will be enough to bail out the industry. Pens that normally hold up to a thousand cattle would have been full Thursday, but instead have been empty for eight days -- ever since the British government admitted that mad cow disease may be transmitted to people.

Now, farmers say there's no reason to bring their cattle to the stockyards -- there isn't any market for them.

"Cattle prices are way down, we can't sell anything at the moment, because nobody's going to buy it. So we've got to hang on to the cattle and feed them, and it's just going to be a hard time," said British farmer Adrian Cafferata.

Some other farmers acted like they'd been beaten by the disease. Although British officials hope to have the mad cow crisis cleaned up within the next couple of weeks, farmer Andrew Miller questioned why he was bothering to feed his cattle. (85K AIFF sound or 85K WAV sound)


Every sector of the nation's meat industry is devastated. Slaughterhouses, called abattoirs here, are for the most part idle. "We've slaughtered no cattle at all for a week now, we've been banned from selling our products to Europe, and the home trade sales are down approximately between 18 and 19 percent," said slaughterhouse operator Richard Scott.

Other beef producers in the European Union have reported similar downturns. In Germany, the farmers' association announced a slide of 30 to 35 percent in consumer demand for beef; in Greece, demand was down as much as 60 percent; demand decreased 40 percent in Portugal, and 30 percent in Spain.

In Britain, the industry is hoping for financial help not just from the British government but from the European Union as well. They note that with beef sales down across the continent, mad cow disease is no longer just a British problem, but a European one.

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