To horse, to horse!

Of course it’s scandalous. Foul foreign horsemeat instead of good,decent beef in burgers and lasagnas. Is nothing sacred any more!

But should we be surprised? It’s not as if this is the first time this has happened. Remember when Panorama revealed that beef and pork protein mysteriously found its way into chicken breasts from Holland in 2003? The chicken breasts, if I remember rightly, came from Thailand. Or was it Brazil? And the Dioxin Affair of 1999. If nothing else, as if we didn’t know it already, the latest outrage has shown just how haphazard, not to say shambolic, our system for testing food products is. It makes you wonder what other substances we may have ingested unwittingly over the years.

You can blame it on the beastly EEC, on the Mafia or those unscrupulous Rumanian villains or whoever you like, but the truth of the matter that it is the system that we have allowed to dominate our food production and retailing that lies at the heart of this mess. If you think of all the links in the chain – live animal merchant; abattoir; meat processor; packager; manufacturer; retailer, not to mention the transport companies who will take the animals to the abattoir, carry the carcasses to the processor, transfer the processed meat to the packaging plant and from the packaging plant to the retailer who then has to distribute the delights to their stores – and reckon they’ve all got to have their cut, and still sell the product at the lowest possible price – £1.60 for 360g Findus ‘Beef’ Lasagna at Tesco’s according to this morning – it’s not surprising that some unannounced items find their way into the food chain.

That’s what you get with a food industry that is a) globalize; and b) fixated with price. When you have a situation in which you have to reconcile two contrary forces – the imperative of selling food as cheaply as possible vs. the imperative for retailers to make 5% profit margins to pass on to their shareholders in the form of dividends, inevitably something has got to give.

It’s partly our own fault. We have delegated all responsibility for maintaining the integrity of our food to other people, politicians, bureaucrats, retailers, anyone but ourselves. We have stopped challenging a system, which is manifestly a fabulous combination of incompetence, corruption and venality, and based on a morality in which good means 5% profit margins and bad means anything less. With the docility of sheep, we have accepted the bland reassurances of politicians and the people who run supermarkets that everything is fine in their hands and that we have nothing to worry about.

Oddly enough, with horsemeat, we really do have nothing to worry about, or very little in terms of danger to our health. Horse is a delicious, fine- sweetish, grained meat. It’s highly nutritious, low in fat and cholesterol and easy to digest, and certainly much better for you than cheap beef. But as anyone who down a gulp of water thinking it to be a glass of gin (or vise versa), not finding what you expect is a nasty shock. Although, come to think of it, it says a good deal about the state of the public taste buds that no one, as far as I know, has complained about the burgers or lasagnas on the grounds of taste.

4 thoughts on “To horse, to horse!

  1. And the sad fact is that the supermarkets will do a good amount of hand wringing, some nifty PR and well meaning reassurance before returning to business as usual: pressuring suppliers to provide them with what they want at the lowest cost.

  2. Certainly horsemeat sashimi is popular (or at least a regional delicacy) here in Japan, where I live. I had a student of mine exhorting me to try the stuff, as she said it was delicious. I wasn’t keen, but I know other people who have tried it and said they liked it.

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