In a flamboyant bid to inspire the confidence of Parisian consumers, 200 local butchers put out the picnic tables in the Jardin du Luxembourg last weekend (9/10 December) and hosted a giant "sane cow" spit roast.

The party was a sign of the desperation of the French meat industry, which has suffered tremendously since the outbreak of BSE was first publicised this October and the meat-loving public watched with empty dinner plates as the numbers of infected cattle gradually rise. Practically half of the abattoir workers across the country are technically redundant as beuf joints were removed from school menus and supermarket shelves.

From three large roasts, the butchers revealed they had enough to feed three to four thousand, and the response from the public was encouraging. A jogger who stopped for a taste commented: "You have more chance of being killed by a car on your way to buy a baguette at the bakery than of dying of mad cow disease." And perhaps she was right - although concern is naturally growing, it should not be forgotten that research estimates that some 7300 animals have been infected with BSE since 1987 in France - compared with one million in the UK.*

At the height of the BSE panic, sales of French beef dropped by 50% but now they are hovering at only 5-10% below the normal, and butchers hope that fears will be further dampened with such public displays of confidence in the meat.

Bernard Merhet, the president of the Federation of Butchers in the Paris Region, explained that he was also anxious to educate consumers on different risk levels. Because "the dairy breeds [of cattle] are the ones that are more at risk, we want to show Parisians that we only sell beef from cattle raised for meat," he said.

 

*According to research carried out by Dr Christl Donnelly of the Imperial College School of Medicine, in London.