24 30 January 2001
Beef industry in turmoil
[ sales down estimated 80%]
By a Staff Reporter
Meat importers and butchers believe the BSE scare has led to a crisis in the sector, with sales of beef thought to have plunged by over 80%.
The scare has sent ripples through other related businesses, with importers dropping orders from abroad due to a decrease in demand from butchers, hotels and restaurants. One butcher, who has already had to ask his assistant to work less hours because of a drop in business, warned that if the situation didn't improve, some establishments would have to close.
One importer told The Business Times that he believed beef sales were down by 85%.
"Nobody's buying beef," he said. "There has been a huge drop in demand from all clients, including the big hotels and catering establishments."
The importer explained that the last consignment the company imported was in early December.
"Then everything literally stopped," he said, "so we are not importing, we still have stocks here that we have to sell."
Asked how he was coping with the drop in business, the importer admitted he had been hit hard.
"What is most annoying is the way the issue has been blown up out of proportion," he said. "This is more scare-mongering than reality and the media has a very powerful influence."
He also pointed out that some of the comments made during parliamentary debates had not been very helpful.
The owner of the well-known outlet, Charles Butcher, described the current situation as "very bad", saying that if things continued, establishments would end up having to close their doors.
Mr Zammit estimated that he was selling 70% less beef.
"Only a few customers are still buying it," he admitted.
He explained that the scare had sent chaos through the system, since people were now ordering more pork, which had led to a scarcity.
"There were problems, I believe, because the government was a bit late issuing licences to the cold stores to import pork, so, in the meantime, there was not enough local pork to go round," he said.
Asked whether he believed the government would have to compensate the industry, Mr Zammit pointed out that abroad, it was only the farmers and not the butchers that were given help, so he imagined that this would be the same pattern here.
He voiced his hope that the scare would "die down" in time.
"My opinion is that the reaction has been somewhat extreme and we have suffered immensely," he said. "I have already had to ask one staff member to cut his days and if things continue like this, we will have to close."
Restaurants managers admitted that the public seemed to be taking the BSE scare seriously.
The manager of the Carriage restaurant in Valletta told The Business Times that the establishment was selling "very little, if any" beef.
"We have it on our a la carte menu, but we are selling many more fish, chicken and pork dishes," he said.
He estimated that the restaurant was now ordering about 75% less beef than previously, pointing out that this was inevitable if demand from clientele dropped.
"Before Christmas, some customers were still ordering beef and simply asking where it came from, but now they are just avoiding it," he said.