A seismic shift in buying habits is in the offing as the horse meat scandal rumbles on, a survey reveals, backing up anecdotal evidence from butchers and farm shops across the South West.
As politicians last night clamoured for more vigorous testing of meat shipments, and looked into allegations that warning were ignored, a quarter (24 per cent) of shoppers were planning to buy less processed meat, and more than a fifth (21 per cent) have already started buying less meat in general.
And in news sure to cheer butchers, 4.1 million people who previously bought processed meat are likely to stop doing so, with 25 per cent of people saying they would now buy more unprocessed meat like joints, chops or steaks instead of processed meats.
Of 2,257 adults asked, 62 per cent are more likely to buy from independent butchers.
Vegetarianism seems set for a boost, with 6 per cent of adults claiming they know someone who has turned vegetarian as a result of the crisis, the survey said.
The scandal has significantly eroded public trust in the food they buy, as 67 per cent of respondents, the equivalent to more than 32 million people, said they trusted food labels less as a result of the scandal.
But butchers are not convinced that the trend will last. Neil Stokes, of Gurney’s Butchers at Over Farm, Gloucestershire, said he has struggled to keep up with demand in the past week.
“Cost is everything though for many people at the moment so I’m not sure how long it will be before people go back to their old habits.”
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson led the charge for a Europe-wide overhaul of food testing, saying the system relies too heavily on trusting paperwork.
Mr Paterson told Sky News’ Murnaghan: “No-one checks what is on the pallet often enough, no-one checks what is in production often enough, no-one checks the finished product often enough.
“We have agreed in this particular issue there will be Europe-wide testing for horse DNA, there will be Europe-wide testing for bute.”
Mr Paterson has also asked the Food Standards Agency to investigate claims that Government ministers were warned in 2011 that horse meat was illegally entering the human food chain.
John Young, formerly of the Meat Hygiene Service, now part of the FSA, told the Sunday Times how a letter he drafted to former minister Sir Jim Paice on behalf of Britain’s largest horse meat exporter, High Peak Meat Exports, which warned that flesh with possible drug residue getting into food could blow up into a scandal, was ignored.