Operators are facing a rise in British beef costs and may be forced to increase menu prices, industry figures have warned.
Following the recent foot and mouth outbreak, farmers have been accused of holding back beef and putting up prices.
Jon Coombe, chef-proprietor of the Westerly restaurant in Reigate, Surrey, said he feared restaurateurs would get to a point where they would have to boycott British beef altogether.
"Farmers seem to be holding back on meat and there's no aged product around," he told Caterer. "It's completely wrong to do this - publicans don't put up their prices because they have fewer customers following the smoking ban. It's profiteering. Restaurateurs might have to get into the habit of not having expensive prime cuts."
Coombe's comments were echoed by a supplier who said restaurateurs might have to start buying foreign beef.
"I know of at least two restaurants that have already taken beef of their menus as a result of this," the supplier said. "The English industry will end up not selling any beef at all because the farmers are taking advantage."
However, Mike Gibson, director of AB&S Wholesale, defended farmers, arguing that the costs of beef production had soared and producers were really suffering.
"The UK beef industry is a very fragile chain at the moment and if anyone - be it farmers, wholesalers or restaurateurs - pulls it too hard it's going to break," he said. "There needs to be transparency across the industry."
By Kerstin Kühn