Friday, 22 February 2013

Can We Trust our Food?

Working in the food industry, I am very aware of the potential for adulteration of foods. With the herbs and spices I supply, I check and test the products I buy, and will reject anything that is suspect. I know that my suppliers feel that I am a pain in the Butt for being fussy, but currant scandal highlights, problems that are actually rather common in the food industry.

Also the reaction by the press, especially in the early stages of the story emerging, was little more than a joke.

While eating Horse meat is not the taboo across Europe, in the UK it is rather rare. Thus most of the coverage has been rather jokey and ignoring the real issue of unfit meat being added to the food chain.

Additionally the press has predominantly pointed the finger at who ever was their pet prejudice. For example when it emerged that Romania had been where the horse meat that was in the Findus products, the press blamed the Foreigners Equally the British press pointed the finger to the European Union because they had banned the use of “Desinued Meat” (a form of mechanically recovered meat) from foods. Again blame the Foreigners and Europe.

The reality is that its the Cheap Food Culture in Britain that has allowed this criminal activity to flourish. The real problem is the the retailers and the food processors turning a blind eye to where the product comes from, as long as its cheap and profitable.

Yet it is a myth that the major supermarkets perpetuate that they are cheap, as often on a like for like basis, a local high street shop will be cheaper. Yet because the quality is often better on products like Meat, Fish and some Fruit and Vegetables in local high street stores, for the same level of spend the consumer gets better quality away from the supermarkets. The problem is that most people are very time poor and do not have the time to shop around nor spend the time cooking.

This applies to the poor especially, the main market for these cheap food products. As they can not
afford the decent food, they has been the real victims in this whole scandal.

This whole situation of cutting food costs to the bone has left us with just the bone, and it turns out not to be a beef bone either. While the Supermarkets and Food Producers are victims to a lesser extent, they are also just as guilty as the criminals who adulterated these cheap foods. As these major retailers have imposed low cost, low quality food on the consumer for so long that the rest of the nation is paying the costs of health problems such as obesity.

There will be plenty of other ways that the Supermarkets are adulterating our food, it is just that most will be legal and hidden. This is not the first time that we have had dubious items in our food, nor will it be the last. There has been a serious failing by this government when they cut back on the funding of policing food production. Further this government and previous ones, have left food and health policy to the supermarkets.

If it had not been for the Irish Food Safety folks trying to think like criminals, non of this would have been discovered. It is likely that this has been going on for at least a year before it was discovered. Although there were people flagging this up even before then.

So how can we trust our food? There are no simple answers to this. Ideally I would say boycott the Supermarkets, especially those caught with their pants down. But that is only realistic for people that can afford to do that and have other choices. The reality is that most people do not have that choice. So actually the real way of solving this issue and preventing it happening again is to break up and limit the size of these retail giants. Then there will be real competition and the consumer will have real and genuine choice. While it may mean that cheapest rubbish will disappear from the shopping baskets, making food prices rise a little, it has only been the fact that making cheap rubbish has been profitable that made this scandal happen in the first place.

If this government can only see beyond its ideology, then they will see the benefits of greater competition, better quality food and better health, and more jobs created. The only short term down side will be that the poorest people may need support for a small increase in prices as the cheapest rubbish is removed from the shelves and support in learning how to cook using real food rather than pre-packed junk.


tree ocean said...

We had a "pink slime" ie, mechanically separated meat, in burger fiasco here a bit ago. I think I ate horse as cheap "ground meat" years ago.

You're right, the meat is much higher quality at the little places around here. But prices are so high, I don't see much action at the meat cooler at either type of store, except the big stores have employees with clipboards patrolling the meat area, giving customers the evil eye, so I suppose people are stuffing steaks down their pants or something. :P

naive said...

Dear Mouse,

I have really enjoyed reading your blog and am in tune with your principles regarding the environment. The trouble with cheap food is that although it may be cheap to the consumer, somewhere else we pay the price. Either the animal suffers (very often) the farmer struggles or the environment is damaged. Often all three. It is clear we cannot continue like this. We need to pay a realistic sum for the cost of food production and on the back on that, we need to pay a living wage to all people in employment.

If you get the chance please visit me at: