Demand here has softened, but nothing like the BSE panic on the continent Conflicting messages are still coming from the UK retail and wholesale beef trades more than a month after the BSE scandal in France began a chain of events leading to meltdown in much of the continental market, but one batch of data offers a hint of consumer unease in this country. Household purchase and expenditure estimates from Taylor Nelson Sofres can be interpreted as indicating a demand downturn in the four weeks ended November 12. Spending on carcase beef was 2.7% lower than in the corresponding period a year earlier and the volume increase was less than 1%, according to these latest available figures. Most preceding four-week periods since the beginning of the year had yielded relatively strong performances, average purchases improving by 4.5% and expenditure by 2.6%. MLC analysts, like most industry observers, regard the TNS figures as reliable. But the period covered by the new data was too early for a confident assessment of any impact the EU crisis might have on the UK market. Although some of the problems in France had become public knowledge in this country by early November, in the MLC view a more likely cause of the downturn was media coverage of the Phillips Inquiry report. Nevertheless, the TNS data tend to vindicate traders who have claimed the market here began wobbling weeks ago, despite supermarkets' and major processors' insistence it was stable. The Irish Food Board was among the earliest to detect trouble, and in its latest British market report states bluntly: "Consumer demand is down, resulting in retailer volumes decreasing." {{MEAT }}