Wednesday, 13 February 2013

What Have You Had In Your Mouth Lately?

A butcher shop specializing in horse meat in P...
A butcher shop specializing in horse meat in Pezenas (languedoc, France) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The horsemeat scandal gripping the UK and Ireland has been a fascinating story to watch unfolding - samples of processed meats in Ireland  tested positive for traces of horse DNA, with Dunnes Stores as well as cut price chains Lidl and Aldi stocking contaminated products.

The story spread quickly, with Tesco's 'Everyday Value' burgers found to contain 29% of everyday horsemeat and 'Everyday Value' spaghetti bolognese some 60% geegee. Findus was doubtless horrified  to find itself dragged into the controversy as tests found its beef lasagne contained from 60 to 100% horsemeat.

This is an investigative journalist's dream. The UK's press fell on the story, baying with glee at the chance to uncover more horsing around with our food - and they've come up trumps. At the heart of early investigations was Irish meat processor Silvercrest and French food processor Comigel.

Silvercrest's now-shuttered meat processing plant in Monaghan produced 3.7 million burgers a day - 9 out of 13 tested contained horse meat. Comigel is a huge supplier of 'white label' frozen ready meals  and the company that supplied the products to Findus and Tesco - as well as Aldi whose 'Today's Special' lasagne and spag bog were also found to contain 'Newmarket steak' instead of beef.

In fact Comigel produces some 30,000 tonnes of white label frozen ready meals a year, which it sells to companies across Europe. It's the Nike of nosh - and the companies that glibly bought low-cost products from Comigel  appear to have sacrificed consumers' interests for competitive advantage and profitability. Hands up if you're surprised. The company's customers included French chains and these have recalled products - the recalls include removals from the shelves of Carrefour, probably the biggest supermarket retailer in the UAE.

British authorities have raided an abbatoir and a meat production company over concerns at horsemeat finding its way into meat for 'burgers and kebabs' - Peter Boddy Licensed Slaughterhouse in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, and Farmbox Meats Ltd are both facing the high jump. Sorry.

Now the latest twist in the tale is that high-end UK supermarket brand Waitrose has been found to be selling meatballs contaminated with pork - in fact up to 30% of the company's 'Essentials' meatballs are pork meat. Waitrose buys the meat from, wait for it, Silvercrest.

Gulf News ran a piece today on the ongoing scandal, reporting on the news coverage that has rolled and rolled throughout the past couple of weeks in the UK and Ireland. Gulf News' attempt to get comment from the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority confirmed they were carrying out checks, but weren't going to 'comment at this time'.

Which is a shame as there is certainly some room for consumer concern here in the UAE. British and European supermarkets and brands are a dominant force in retail - and those levels of concern are hardly likely to get any lower as investigations unearth more and more consequences of supermarkets and brands abandoning traceability for profit. This is one story that's certainly not going away any time soon.

Can the UAE's supermarkets and food processors assure their customers of full traceability and that the foods they are selling are not contaminated by this scandal? Who's asking them? It's at a time like this you'd really want to be well served by your media. And no comment is not really what we need to hear.

Update: This excellent report on The National website today talks to retailers, processors and authorities alike to answer the very question I ask above - at least regarding locally processed meat if not imported ready meals. You can be the judge of the differential standards of journalism represented by the two newspapers' treatment of the same story.
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Luke said...

A slaughterhouse in Todmorden? Given that in German "Tod" means "death" and "Mord" means "murder", where else could it be?

Nigel said...

Always buy the "medium fat" minced beef. Horsemeat is extremely lean, so you'll know that at least part of your meal comes from a cow.

Unless it comes from a pig.

Alexander McNabb said...

The real worry is those processed ready meals. What's in 'em?

More to the point - if people are prepared to feed us horsemeat in the pursuit of profit, what else are they capable of doing?

What's IN that stuff?

Luke said...

Totally agree on the ready meals. The problem is that if you want to cook it yourself, it costs so much more. Food manufacturers know that and make sure that the price makes it impossible for the less-well-off to say no.

It's not right that we live in a world where the poor are fat and the rich are thin (with exceptions of course). I see rolls of belly fat on people working at slave-labour rates and wonder what kind of rubbish they are being forced to digest to look like that.

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