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What can we do about the Horsemeat scandal?

foodstandardsagencylogoI guess I’m not the only parent to be asked by their kid: “Daddy, have I ate horse?”. It’s not the kind of question I would have predicted if you asked me a while back, but given reports on the news recently it became  more likely. Sadly the answer is: “Yes, probably”.

The news started to emerge in Ireland.Here’s how the scandal unfolded:

  • The Food Safety Authority of Ireland says beefburgers with traces of equine DNA, including one product classed as 29% horse, were being supplied to supermarkets by Silvercrest Foods in Ireland and Dalepak Hambleton in Yorkshire, subsidiaries of the ABP Food Group. No contamination was found at Dalepak.
  • The ABP Food Group suspended work at its Silvercrest Foods plant in Co Monaghan, Ireland, until further notice.
  • Production at a second meat supplier, Rangeland Foods in Co Monaghan, was suspended after 75% equine DNA was found in raw ingredients.
  • Frozen meat at the Freeza Meats company in Newry, Northern Ireland, was found to contain 80% horsemeat.
  • Burger King revealed its burgers were contaminated by horsemeat.
  • Then Tesco and Aldi withdrew  frozen spaghetti and lasagne meals produced by the French food supplier Comigel following concerns about its Findus beef lasagne.

Few people can have much confidence in the food supply chain just now. What can be done about the problem?

Unison have highlighted cuts to inspections and Britain’s consumer watchdog alleged “highly likely” organised crime.

The Food Standards Authority said it was ordering a swathe of food manufacturers to test DNA in their beef products after examiners found some Findus-brand lasagne was almost entirely horse.

Irish inspectors found that of 18 Findus samples, 11 contained between 60 to 100 per cent horse meat.

The authority’s chief executive Catherine Brown told reporters: “I have to say that the two cases of gross contamination that we see here indicates that it is highly likely there has been criminal and fraudulent activity involved.”

Unison represent inspectors. They blame the industry itself, and in particular job cuts.

The number of analysts has dropped by two-thirds since 2000 to just 32 people, while independent inspections fell by 29 per cent between 2008 to 2010 – with the industry given even more leeway following the Con-Dems’ “bonfire of the quangos.”

National officer Ben Priestley also said most of the mislabelled horse meat has been found in “budget” food, which were marketed to the poorest amongst us.

“It is a scandal that the safety of people, whose choice is limited by their income, has come second to the private profit.”

He also said the authority’s cuts to inspectors’ pay and pensions announced this week were the last straw.

“The attack on food inspectors’ pay, at a time when their work has never been more needed, is poorly timed in the extreme and astonishingly insensitive.”

Patrick Harrington, General Secretary of the Solidarity Trade Union, said:

“We need to get behind the food inspectors. Clearly there is a big need for them and we shouldn’t be cutting back. Robust action needs to be taken to prevent contamination of our food.”

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