By Mike Small
What we’re watching is a food system in meltdown and a society in denial. Welcome to Austerity Britain where deregulation and profiteering have come together with Big Food to give you a food culture now being exposed as a sham.
News that Findus has admitted that it withdrew all its beef lasagne ready meals from supermarkets because they had tested positive for high levels of horsemeat, will not come as a surprise to those following the problems of transparency, cost-cutting and outsourcing in the industry. That some products tested as 100% horse meat is shocking to some and it blows away the industry arguments that it’s been trying to secure.
Since the Horse Burger scandal a few weeks ago the PR departments of Tesco, Asda, Lidl and all the big retail companies have been working overtime.
The message has been clear: this was a rogue batch, probably from Ireland, it was ‘just DNA’ and was probably if true at all just ‘trace elements’. Finally, of course we are reassured that there would be no public health issue at stake.
All of these claims lie in tatters as the meat industry, and the Big Retail chains that dominate our food culture stand accused of being completely out of control.
On health we now know that the Findus products have not yet been tested for the presence of the horse drug, phenylbutazone, which is banned in human food, and so the Food Standards Agency is unable to declare them safe.
The spreading crisis has come about from an industry that has been de-regulated. Food journalist Felicity Lawrence has stated:
Intense lobbying has ensured that the meat industry is now regulated with a light touch. Meat inspection by the government’s Meat Hygiene Service has been steadily deregulated over the past two decades. The MHS vet in a large abattoir cuts a lonely figure and is often in any case absent at night. Current proposals before Europe would make the industry largely self-policing. The Food Standards Agency, meanwhile, was itself eviscerated by the coalition government as part of the Conservatives’ “bonfire of the quangos”. Its previous chief executive Tim Smith is now Tesco’s technical director and dealing with the scandal on the other side of the fence. Trading standards officers, who would be responsible for detecting mislabelled meat have also been cut drastically by the coalition. There were 26% fewer inspections in 2011-12 than in 2009-10 and a 29% drop in prosecutions.
The alternative is:
* shorter supply chains where you can actually see what’s going on
* direct sales and transparent food systems
* recreating a local food culture so that people know where their food comes from
* examining the culture of excessive consumption of low-quality meat products