Turning a blind eye to dodgy ‘meat products’

IT’S a bit like trying to “put the cat back into the bag” except in this case it’s more likely someone is attempting to “shut the stable door after the horse has bolted”.

General view of two beef burgers
General view of two beef burgers

IT’S a bit like trying to “put the cat back into the bag” except in this case it’s more likely someone is attempting to “shut the stable door after the horse has bolted”.

The horse burger fiasco doesn’t come as any real surprise to some sections involved in UK farming and food production.

It’s symptomatic of what has possibly been happening for a number of years, but the evidence, or rather DNA evidence, wasn’t available.

Let’s be reasonable and reiterate there probably isn’t a health risk to the public consumption of horse meat. In many European countries, especially France, consumption of horse meat is accepted as normal. However, it’s a very “un-British” and viewed at an equivalent level of eating one’s family pet. To many UK consumers it’s abhorrent.

For many years, UK farmers, trade associations, consumer lobby-groups and farming unions have raised concerns regarding the importing of “meat-products” from other countries. The meat products are processed and packaged at UK plants and labelled along the lines of “packed in the UK”. The system has been open to abuse and finally, when held to accountability, there’s outrage – and apologies.

But what did the supermarkets and processors really expect? Not every meat supplier has to conform to the rigorous standards applied by the UK authorities. Stringent measures that UK farmers have had to comply with or face huge fines and even closure. But there’s always a dubious supplier who will consider making a quick buck and thereby include cheaper or alternative products as a way to increase profits. And that’s the word at the heart of the matter, profit.

For all the finger-pointing, protestations, denials and apologies consumers are now expected to swallow a huge dose of naivety. It’s enough to choke – well, a horse. Unfortunately, it’s going to wipe out consumer confidence as well as profit, and the share value of some innocent, stake-holders, pun intended.

Consumers should be reassured that UK controls are recognised as being the highest in the world offering complete traceability and record of animal movement. Every UK-born calf is logged and provided with a passport from the day of birth. The passport system and ear-tagging identification procedures travel with and identify each animal throughout its life.

A whole new industry was created known as the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) after the 2001 FMD outbreak. Equine passports are also part and parcel of everyday procedures for UK horse-owners. It’s seems extremely unlikely that beef burgers containing horse-meat were sourced via a direct UK route. Beef burgers have contained pork products, highly offensive to sections of the community on religious grounds.

The horse burgers in question are believed to have been supplied by Silverscrest in Ireland and Dalepak in Yorkshire. It is understood investigations are focusing on two companies in continental Europe that supply “beef” ingredients, and the product is then added to forequarter mince in the processing of burgers.

Of the 27 beef burger products analysed, 10 have tested positive for horse DNA. Nine of the 10 had low horse DNA levels but one “value” burger sold by Tesco in the UK and Ireland, indicated the contained level of horse DNA was at 29% relative to beef content. Traces of equine DNA have also been traced to beef products in Dunnes Stores, Aldi, Lidl and Iceland stores in Ireland. Further concern is focused on 85% of samples tested containing pig DNA.

Without being jingoistic or even xenophobic British, English, Scottish or simply UK beef offers consumers the highest standards in terms of animal welfare and complete traceability. Consumer confidence in UK-produced beef should not be compromised by recent events. It’s safe, it’s British and arguably, the best in the world. But we’ve been let down. Others appear to have turned “a blind eye” or maybe, just maybe, it’s a case of “a nudge, being as good as a wink, to a blind horse”.

:: Bruce Jobson is a member of The Guild of Agricultural Journalists


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