More the one million British families may have turned their backs on red meat, according to a report by the Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC).

Consumer confidence in red meat safety has taken several knocks over the past few years. Food fears began in 1996 with the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the national herd, and its widely suspected link to the human brain wasting disease vCJD. New research by the MLC suggests that the foot and mouth crisis may well be the straw that broke the camel's back. Confronted by media images of animal pyres and burial grounds, consumers are rejecting meat.

Sales have already fallen by as much as 15% and experts fear they could fall further. In its report, the MLC commented: "Sales and household purchase data indicate that some one million households may have stopped purchasing beef, lamb or pork in the short term."

The red meat market in Britain is worth about US$15.8bn a year, and the MLC is now appealing to the government for a US$35.9m boost in order to launch a marketing campaign and reassure consumers.