Wow what a couple of weeks it has been for the ‘food’ industry. Processed food such as cheap beef burgers and beef lasagne ready meals being found to contain up to 100% horsemeat. I’ve listened to a lot of news reports and consumers views overthe same period and most of the talk has been “horsemeat – would you eat it” where consumers would either say “not bovvered” or “eeeeeewwwwwww that’s disgusting!”.
Little coverage has actually been given over to shining a great big intense light onto the murky world that is the ‘food’ industry. Owen Paterson has indicated that there may be widespread criminal corruption involving foreign gangs pressurising suppliers into signing off horsemeat as beef. Yes, up to now it has been easy to dismiss this scandal on foreigners, but now it transpires that a slaughterhouse and meat company in the UK have come under scrutiny for alleged horsemeat mislabelling.
It’s all very complex and confusing with supermarkets blaming suppliers who in turn point the finger at their own suppliers. For example, Tesco dropped their supplier Silvercrest Foods over the scandal. ABP who own Silvercrest blamed McAdam Foods who in turn blamed their Irish suppliers. WTF!!!
With all this complexity and throw into the mix the period of austerity we are experiencing it seems crystal clear that corners have been cut. And guess who is on the end of this – yes the good old consumer (again).
More worrying is an investigation by the Ulster Society for the Protection of Animals (USPCA)who believe the dangerous drug phenylbutazone or ‘bute’ has entered the human food chain. Bute is a painkiller given to horses but is reported to cause cancer in humans and is not permitted in any quantity whatsoever.
The USPCA report that around 70,000 (many in poor condition) horses were corralled in Northern Ireland, shipped to England (under false passports and chips) for slaughter before sending on to Europe. Once in Europe the meat went predominantly to Belgium & France, but it has been suggested that the meat was processed into cheap ‘beef’ goods and shipped back to the UK! YUM!
Testing, as I write (14th Feb), has been carried out for bute in horses slaughtered in the UK. Nearly 4% had traces of the drug in them. Of course the amounts were small and not a cause for concern, ahem…
I guess the clue is in the two words ‘food industry’. Something as important to our health as the food we put into our mouths I think should not be an industrial process. We seem to have lost our connection with the food we eat and where it comes from and only interested in how much it costs, the cheaper the better. Well now the chickens (and horses) are coming home to roost!
To end on a positive note I like Toby Hemenway’s ideas on sourcing food where the last place you should be going for food is the supermarket!
1. your garden/growing your own
2. community gardens
3. farmers market
4. independent groceries
5. chain supermarkets
p.s. for a good overview to date of this scandal go to BBC Radio 4 Food programme