In a recent article in the UK newspaper, the Independent, it has been claimed that ministers have known from as long ago as 2011 that horsemeat may have been entering the UK foodchain.
‘John Young, a former manager at the Meat Hygiene Service, which is now part of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), said he helped draft a warning letter to the former agriculture minister Sir Jim Paice. In it, the minister was told that the Government’s passport scheme – designed to prevent horse meat containing harmful drugs entering the food chain – was not working.’
Jim Paice insists that he had absolutely no knowledge of this warning letter. This therefore raises a further issue – that of information flow within the corridors of power. If Sir Jim didn’t know about the possibility of there being horsemeat in the food chain, then why was that?
It is very easy to point blame and wag the finger in a number of directions in this scenario. The supermarkets are being spat on which I feel is a little unfair. They are being blamed because they are visible but nine times out of ten it is not wholly their responsibility to ensure the constituents within their meat products. Why would a supermarket even think about testing for horsemeat? Or ostrich or rat meat for that matter!
In a time of cuts producers are struggling but again, we should not be laying the hammer down on this side either. Mark Price, the managing director of Waitrose, said the rising costs of rearing animals could have encouraged meat suppliers to “cheat”, either for their own “personal greed or to keep a company afloat”. This I think is going too far again. All should accept a degree of responsibility, none more than the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and local authorities who, as Malcolm Walker of supermarket giant Iceland notes, are obsessed with price and therefore drive down both prices and quality.
“If we are going to blame somebody, let’s start with local authorities because there is a whole side to this industry that is invisible, that is the catering industry; it is massive business for cheap food and local authorities award contracts based purely on one thing: price. If you’re looking to blame somebody who is driving down food quality: it’s schools, it’s hospitals, it’s prisons, it’s local authorities.”
The scandal has been yet another wake up call to all involved in the food industry. It has also been one for policy makers and consumers. We are what we eat; we just have to be careful that we know what we are eating.