By Shelley Wright
INDEPENDENT butchers are demanding compensation of up to £150m from the government to help them withstand the devastation caused by the BSE crisis.
The National Federation of Meat and Food Traders estimates that about 20 butchers a week are going out of business as a result of the beef scare. And it wants determined government action to deal with the crisis.
Speaking at the Federations recent annual meeting, president Roger Kelsey warned that despite the actions taken so far by government ministers, consumer confidence had still not fully returned.
He claimed the public was still not reassured that enough had been done. Although confidence in prime cuts was growing in the UK the market for economy cuts was still severely depressed. "The message we as butchers need to get across is that we deal with the whole carcass. So, if prime cuts are safe, then it is completely illogical to think that economy cuts are any different," he said.
"Until the government hits on a meaningful and purposeful policy which demonstrates to our public and to our European partners that we are getting to grips with the problem, the European ban will continue and domestic confidence – together with our industry – will remain in limbo."
The Federations estimate of widespread closures conflicts with Meat and Livestock Commission suggestions, and evidence from some small butchers themselves, that they are better able to maintain beef sales than supermarkets.
An MLC spokesman said the Commission had no separate beef sales figures for supermarkets and independents. But the impression from individual butchers was encouraging. "The only evidence we have is from talking to butchers and the ones we have spoken to have all said their beef trade is coming back. But most of the demand is for beef cuts rather than for processed meat for burgers and pies."
Good independent butchers were, to a certain extent, in a better position than supermarkets to deal with the crisis. Most traded in fresh meat and knew their customers by name. *