Continued uncertainty surrounding Brexit, unseasonably cool weather and on-going health scares associated with red meat are compounding to have a negative impact on sales, with prime beef prices again down on the week.

Add to that overwhelming barrage of claims that converting to veganism will help save the planet, and demand for beef appears to be heading south – despite reduced supplies.

As it is, prime values have slipped for the past four weeks in succession with the R3 steer price in Scotland 20-25p per deadweight kg lower than it was this time last year, and some 20p lower than that of 2017.

Worse still, is the fact that demand remains lacklustre at a time of year when sales are traditionally upward bound.

"Something seems to be happening to the red meat sector that is affecting consumer demand because there is not the same confidence in the meat trade. There has been an unexpected chill on sales which appears to be affecting both the processors and the local butchers" said Stuart Ashworth, director of economics at Quality Meat Scotland.

"There appears to be a lack of confidence with the continued uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the drip, drip feed in the media that red and processed meat is associated with obesity and other health problems."

Backing up these statements are the latest figures which show the overall Scottish steer average slipped 2.5p per deadweight kg on the week to 360.1p with numbers down 16% on the week, while the Scottish heifer average of 363.0p was back 2p, with 14.6% less.

Prices also slipped south of the Border, with the overall steer average in England and Wales falling 4.1p to 341.0p, with 10% fewer cashed, while heifers levelled at 345.5p, down 0.5p with a 15% fall in numbers.

The only good news is that Britain is not alone, as the EU beef trade is also down on the year according to Mr Ashworth who said the R3 steer and young bull price is down 6% on the year for the same week, with cow values back 4%.

Mr Ashworth is nevertheless confident the market should strengthen in the back-end of the year as supplies tighten further, however, much of that depends on finished carcase weights.

Forecast kill figures are also expected to be down in Northern Ireland by as much as 5% for the second half of 2019 with reduced supplies throughout 2020, which again should bolster ex-farm prices.

But, despite falling supplies, the problem of reduced consumer confidence in the market, which is down on the year, remains according to Clive Brown, head of knowledge exchange at AHDB.

Speaking at the Beef Expo at Junction 36, he said: "An increasing number of people are looking at food for it's health benefits and an increasing number of consumers are saying they are eating less meat."

He added that surveys had shown that up to 37% of consumers are looking to eat less meat in a bid to improve their diet, of which 19% were also seeking to reduce their carbon footprint.

However, while 2% of the population claim to be vegan, figures from Kantar Worldpanel show the actual figure is nearer 0.6% of which 30% live in London. It is also claimed that only 14% of vegan meals are eaten by vegans.

Instead, Mr Brown said the flexitarian diet poses the biggest threat to the industry.

"One of our biggest concerns is with the flexitarian diet as these consumers are eating less meat for health reasons but the meat they are eating is often of better quality so we have to improve the consistency of our product which can be difficult when taking into account variation in conformation, fat levels, carcase weights and breeds."