Saturday, 19 January 2013

Aren't we missing the point with the Tesco #horsemeat

How did this become a debate between meat-eaters who won’t touch horse and meat-eaters who will?

I read several articles from a variety of newspapers last week. The major thrust from most of the commentators was that people really don’t need to be squeamish about horse meat. It’s probably far better nutritionally than beef. It’s probably safer, too. I’m not going to argue with anyone on this. It’s leaner meat, from animals who have far fewer chemicals and hormones pumped into them, and I’ve never heard of a case of equine spongiform encephalopathy.

Oh, and there was one article by Giles Coren saying that poor people should expect no better. What do you expect to get from ‘value’ burgers, was his starting point; and if you can’t afford fine dining then doff your cap and keep quiet cropped up somewhere. I wasn’t sure if it was a try-to-be-funny article or a try-to-be-controversial one. I read to the end to see what the point would be but it proved never to have one.

BUT... speaking of points, none of this is the point!

Horse meat might indeed be healthier, meat-eaters who shun it might indeed be illogical, people who would never buy a ‘value’ brand of anything might indeed be jolly pleased they’re rich, but how has everyone become so completely diverted from the issue of the food labels?

We have laws in this country about ingredients lists. They have to be accurate. We can see this by the way the ingredients are listed in a microscopic font on an inaccessible part of the package while the front can blazon meaningless and inaccurate twaddle like ‘FAT FREE’, ‘HEALTHY’ and ‘NO ADDED SUGAR’.

None of the affected products as far as I’m aware had horse meat on the ingredients list. If it had been there, I feel sure we would have heard about it. That’s worth repeating: None of the affected products – including those that tested for over 40% of the meat being horse – had horse meat on the ingredients list. The ingredients lists were WRONG, INACCURATE and apparently the supermarkets selling the stuff didn’t have a clue.

Supermarkets are selling products with inaccurate ingredients lists. They haven’t a clue what’s in the stuff they sell. And if they don’t know, what chance the hapless consumer? But the thrust of the debate swirls around the virtues or not of horsemeat as a food.

I reckon that a lobby powerful enough to organise this mass diversion away from the point is easily powerful enough to get its food labelling at least to be legal. That it chooses not to is truly scary.


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  2. Is there a historical reason we don't eat horse meat? And, does it have a name, like cow meat being beef and pig meat being pork?

    You've hit the nail on the head, of course, with unerring accuracy. When we have a local restaurant cooking springbok and crocodile, what's the problem with horse? Absolutely none. The problem is that the retailer - the ones responsible for ensuring the safety of the stuff they sell - are breaking the law and, as hapless victims have discovered in times past, ignorance is no defence.

  3. It's a question of knowing what you're eating. I wouldn't go anywhere near a burger unless I'd made it myself.

    1. Yes, I agree. Haven't eaten a burger for years. I've always worried about what might be in them, and now, it seems in spite of all the food regs, I was right to worry. As you say, Penny, that is the point. What other foods should we be worrying about?

  4. And even if the ingredients lists are sometimes accurate, they can be worrying in themselves. Compare for example, peanut butter (ingredients: peanuts) with "low fat ... healthy" peanut butter (Ingredients list looks like the inventory from a chemical arms manufacturer)

  5. I agree wholeheartedly with your post, Penny. But there's another aspect that troubles me as well. All these burgers, I heard 10 million mentioned, have been taken off the shelves and, presumably, disposed of. This is food. The animals providing the nutrients are dead and we can't bring them back by failing to consume them. Surely, in a world where half the population is at least hungry and at worst, starving, we could simply use stickers to advise purchasers of the reality, and allow shoppers to make up their own minds whether or not they eat the food?

  6. Not just burgers, Stuart. The food mountains that are thrown in the trash are a scandal. And we can't hold the supermarkets to blame on their own. It's us as consumers who pick out the unblemished apples and leave the not quite spherical ones at the bottom of the crate to be thrown out when the sell-by date passes.