Analysts say the recall of a batch of Northern Irish beef from supermarkets on safety grounds should not affect public confidence in the meat.

But it could not have come at a worse time, days before the EU Food and Veterinary Office visits the UK to check BSE controls are being correctly applied.

A lot rides on the outcome of the visit, because a favourable report will give the green light to extend bone-in beef to animals up to 30 and possibly 36 months of age.

The Co-operative was the worst hit by the recall, triggered when Dunbia discovered it had slaughtered a cow over 30 months of age. BSE controls ban OTM cattle from the chain because they are thought to pose a higher risk of infection.

Dunbia had to recall 5,700 cases of meat from the C0-op - 8% of the retailer's average weekly beef sales.

A spokesperson said it was too soon to quantify the impact on consumer confidence and sales.

But the swift action by Dunbia, the FSA and the retailers involved meant the 'scare' was unlikely to have much effect on beef sales, said MLC marketing director Richard Lowe. "It was in the news for less than 24 hours and consumer confidence is unlikely to waiver. Past experience has found, however, that prolonged coverage can be damaging."

As for the FVO's confidence in the country's ability to manage BSE risk, Lowe admitted the breach just prior to its visit was poor timing. "But it can be viewed in two ways. It's bad news as it has highlighted there is room for error, but the breach was spotted. The monitoring system in place picked it up and it was dealt with quickly."

Processors are optimistic that they can stand up to next week's FVO inspection. Specialist abattoirs, butchers and top-end retailers such as Selfridges stand to benefit most from an easier trade in bone-in beef, said Norman Bagley, policy director of the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers. "It's paramount we see this increase, as the current 24-30 month limit has placed real restrictions on the trade."