23 August 1996

Mature beef scheme:No from stores

MOST supermarkets have given the governments mature beef assurance scheme the cold shoulder and will not stock products from certified herds.

And even independent butchers are cautious about the scheme, fearing that, with only about 3000 UK herds likely to qualify, there will be inadequate supplies of beef, in turn making it too expensive.

The only major supermarket chain that said it might sell some beef from certified herds was Tesco.

But other retailers have rejected the scheme. The main reasons included a reluctance to allow any beef from animals over 30 months back on to the market. And most had no wish to amend their existing beef assurance schemes to incorporate mature cattle.

Not enough product

A Waitrose spokesman said that the small number of farms likely to qualify meant that not enough product would be available for stores to switch exclusively to mature beef. And if that was not possible then there was the danger of creating a two-tier market he added.

Safeways meat buyers are still studying the scheme. But Marks and Spencer has already decided that it will not offer mature beef. "We do not want older animals. All the beef we use comes from selected herds and is from cattle younger than 30 months old," said a spokeswoman.

That point was also highlighted by Sainsburys whose own farm assured scheme specified that only steers and heifers under 30 months were used.

"We have no intention of changing this policy to include older cattle," said a spokeperson.

Whether independent butchers will stock mature beef remains to be seen. But the scheme received only a lukewarm reception from Roger Kelsey, president of the national federation of meat and food traders.

"In principle all 10,000 independent butchers would be interested in selling meat from traceable sources. But if only 3000 herds qualify for this scheme then theres only going to be a relatively small amount of beef," he said. And restricted supply would drive the price up.