By Vicky Houchin

CONSUMERS may be buying as much beef now as they did before the BSE crisis, but prices for farmers are unlikely to rise much more, say supermarkets.

Shoppers have forgotten about the BSE scare and are now buying more beef than they did before the crisis in 1996, according to the Meat and Livestock Commission.

But although beef values have been strong, the countrys two biggest supermarkets have warned they are unlikely to rise much further.

“Prices have gone down over the last couple of weeks,” said Bas Dungey, retail operations manager for Sainsburys.

A dip in values has also been seen at livestock auctions around the country, and cattle prices have fallen again this week.

Steers dropped by more than 3p at markets on Monday to average 92.86p/kg, while heifers drifted 1.38p/kg to 92.80p/kg. Young bulls fell over 2p to 93.99p/kg.

Mr Dungey said Sainsburys is solid in supporting the British market, and purchases as much home-produced meat as possible.

But the supermarket continues to purchase fresh New Zealand lamb between February and June, due to a lack of quality in the British lambs at that time of year, he added.

The company also sources a small amount of pork because of its superior taste, he added.

Chris Ling, agricultural manager for Tesco, agreed that sales of beef are thriving.

If demand stays strong, he believes that prices will remain fairly firm over the coming season, levelling off slightly in the autumn.

“Well not see the massive slump we did last year, though,” he added.

Despite an increase in sales, however, increasingly sophisticated customers are not solely sourcing British products, said Mr Ling.

Attractiveness, price and quality all effect a shoppers choice, and if British beef gets all this right, the consumer will buy, he added.

Marks and Spencer also confirmed that its sales are higher than they were before the BSE crisis, and attributed this rise to a campaign it ran to market prime beef.