The “horsemeat in UK food” scandal is dragging on and on. Each day brings new discoveries, with supermarkets then having to quickly remove items from sale. Felix Lighter takes a look at the things the Tories don’t want you to know about when it comes to the food we eat.
The “horsemeat in UK food” scandal is dragging on and on. Each day brings new discoveries, with supermarkets then having to quickly remove items from sale. Tesco’s had to admit that one item they sold contained 60 per cent horse. Some Findus Lasagne’s had 100 per cent horsemeat in it. According to reports, burger sales have now dropped 43 per cent and ready meals by 13 per cent. The only reason they have not dropped further is that, at the end of the day, people have to eat and for many there is little else they can afford.
The government has attempted to pass the whole thing off as a criminal scam involving just a few firms from abroad. Clearly, as each day passes, this is not the case.
Of course, we should not forget that the Tory-led Coalition’s original position, when the rumours were first raised in Parliament last year, as to ignore them and instead accuse Labour of “talking down the food industry.”
The truth is that the food industry has been beset with scandals over its production methods not just for weeks, but for years. Previous scandals have included finding contaminated animal feed in Germany, which was affecting eggs and pastries sold in Britain. Another involved dodgy beansprouts from Egypt which led to 22 people dying in Europe.
The food industry has built up huge profits on the back of cheap food produced for mass consumption. With the recession this has become a growing market. Because these items are mainly sold to low-income families, little care has been taken over the actual quality, unlike food sold to the rich. These companies banked on no-one finding out even though there was a clear danger that people were not only eating horse (and who knows what else?) but that dangerous chemicals might also enter the food chain.
In 1906, the American socialist Upton Sinclair wrote a classic book called “The Jungle” (available from Wellred Books) which exposed the appalling conditions of the food packing industry. Such was the outrage that it led to the establishment of federal bodies in the US to monitor food preparation conditions.
Sadly the lesson has not been learnt here. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the Food Standards Agency have been forced to cut staff by more than half in recent years and funding for trading standards and environmental health has been cut by 32 per cent in real terms per person since 2009 (see FT Feb 11th)
Horsemeat has become very cheap. The horse-loving Irish have been bumping off horses by the thousand since the recession hit them. It was inevitable that someone would see an opening for a nice profit at our expense. The fact that supermarkets, with their endless price wars, were demanding ever-lower prices from wholesalers, simply made it a more likely option to try out in order to cut costs.
It is now clear that a lot of people in the industry knew what was going on. Labour should now be demanding that those bodies responsible for checking what we eat get proper funding. More than that, the time has come for the big food companies to be nationalised so that they can no longer rip us off.