Year of the Horse February 12, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy.
When a Tory Environment Minister calls for three monthly testing of meat to ensure it is what is says it is on the packaging then it’s time to admit that the current systems in place are seriously askew. But that’s precisely what happened yesterday when…
The British food industry relies excessively on trust and paper-based reassurance about food content, as opposed to random testing at every stage of the food chain, the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, has admitted.
Giving a Commons statement on the escalating horsemeat scandal, Paterson said he wanted to see random testing introduced as quickly as possible.
The current crisis – and yes, let’s call it a crisis, over horse DNA and meat being found in what supposedly are other products appears to be growing. And not least in that it points up the sheer paucity of the systems in place as regards the provenance of foodstuffs.
This side of the Irish Sea the Phoenix in its current edition in an excellent piece on the woes of FG Minister Simon Coveney – sitting this out in Agriculture, notes a:
…a promise – unfulfilled – made in the coalition government’s programme for government and stated twice for emphasis, to deal with the country’s disjointed food safety regime. According to the grandiosely titled Statement of Common Purpose, it was stated under the heading, Supporting SMEs. “We will create a single food safety monitoring agency, building on the existing Food Safety Authority, responsible for food safety inspection from farm to fork. This will enhance the food traceability system and reduce the burden of red tape on business”. This commitment was repeated under the section headed, Agriculture.
And it continues by referencing the fact that food monitoring is split between the FSA and the Department of Agriculture in a way which those of us of a cynical mind might ascribe to generating expedient outcomes.
…[he] said [last] evening he would be asking Irish manufacturers of processed meat products to carry out DNA testing and to work with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) in developing testing protocols for this purpose.
Not before time.
The Minister said the move was a “necessary step in order to provide further reassurance to Irish consumers and consumers of Irish food abroad”.
That might be just a bit late given the latest revelation that Tesco’s frozen Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognese product which is meant to be made from Irish beef was yet another product with more horse than most would expect or want. And those horses surely weren’t Irish. Probably.
And food safety is central and political dynamite as well. Joe O’Brien, former RTÉ agriculture correspondent asks the pertinent question:
But where does this leave the consumer? The authorities insist that the horse meat crisis is not one of food safety but rather one of labelling. That is serious enough given that the public is entitled to know what they are eating and paying for.
Well. Yes. And he’s right, that from the perspective of the authorities, in this instance putting aside the yuch factor, for some, of eating horse meat so far it doesn’t appear to be a safety issue – though to put it that way is to make a virtue of necessity. But it could so easily be an issue of food safety. And it has been in the past.
Moreover it somewhat makes a mockery of the efforts to improve the system so far. Or as O’Brien notes:
Farmers today rightly feel let down by the horse meat controversy after all their work in improving hygiene and beef quality. They have also invested a lot of effort in traceability systems enabling food to be tracked from “farm to fork”.
Now again, being cynical, one wonders precisely how useful the ‘traceability’ regime is, after all putting to one side immediate outbreaks of ill health longer term conditions that might be generated by meat consumption could take years at which point tracing them back to a given source would be impossible. But, that traceability system at least means that it is possible to determine what one is eating, one hopes.
And let’s also be clear that labelling is no great shakes either. Recently I’ve noticed that there are products in various supermarkets which don’t have proper labelling of fats, saturated fats, salt and so on. But, as O’Brien notes correctly, in all this the interests of the people who actually consume these foods is put last.
Not enough financial clout, presumably. Not important enough for anything more than essentially light touch regulation and the sense that the market will provide. And if it’s horse meat that’s served up unknowingly, well, hey, it won’t kill anyone – probably.
Long past time that attitude and approach was challenged.
Even the Tories agree.