Brits have a traditional aversion to horse meat. Why? We just do. Just across the Channel, you don’t have to look far to see a cafe advertising cheap and cheerful Hamburger au Cheval, but despite there being no health downside, it’s just not done over here. So the discovery of horse meat in supermarket beefburgers is all that the why-oh-why brigade needs to have an epic reality failure.
This has been compounded by the realisation that there are papers to be shifted by getting terribly agitated about what goes into cheap burgers. “Low quality beef cuts that can’t be sold in any other form”! “Filler”! And “animal blood plasma” to bind the stuff together! Er, hang on a minute: how d’you think supermarket chains put this stuff in the chiller cabinets at the price without using cheap ingredients?
But the Fourth Estate’s brains trust prefers not to dwell on the screamingly obvious, as the real culprit is in sight. And that culprit is Europe. Yes, the dastardly EU is once again coming to get us, well, those of us daft enough to buy Tesco Everyday Value burgers, that is. So the Irish, together with the Netherlands and Spain (who may have supplied the Irish) are to blame, then.
The Mail gets particularly righteous about this, to the extent of ordering a hatchet job on 76 year old Larry Goodman because his company, ABP Food Group, has been caught up in the affair. But a little further reading shows that the Irish are in reality, far from being the bad guys, the folks who made the discovery and blew the whistle in the first place.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland picked up on the horse meat content recently, although it did not make its concerns public until proper analysis and independent confirmation had been done. The UK’s own Food Standards Agency did, more or less, nothing. So if anyone has failed, it’s our side: no questions asked, no intelligence sought or shared, no inspections performed.
Blaming everyone else is not good enough. EU rules mean passing off horse meat as “beef” is illegal, but the rules are no use if those empowered to enforce them fail to do so. And it is equally not good enough to kick suppliers in Ireland whose main crime is to participate in the satisfaction of the culture of “cheap food”. There is always a catch if something is so cheap.
In the meantime, we could try not to go into blind panic mode at the thought of horse meat being served up. It doesn’t present a health hazard. It’s probably far safer than those “low quality beef cuts”. And it doesn’t seem to have harmed all those dastardly French who tuck into Hamburger au Cheval. Get over it, folks.
Two points - first and most crucial is why the UK's Food Standards Agency did not manage to pick anything up. The likely answer is too much de-regulation by successive governments at the behest of food manufacturers and supermarkets - witness David Heath's remarks about talking down the industry. The second point is to ask when the media are going to turn their limited attention span to what goes into cheap sausages and chicken products. Have they ever asked precisely how chicken nuggets are held together from mechanically recovered 'meat'?
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