Thursday, 14 February 2013

Kingdom and horses

This week’s combination joke could make fun out of the fact that Richard III has been confirmed to have been parked in Leicester and the beef in many processed foods seems to be horse rather than cow. Shakespeare put the words “kingdom for a horse” to the mouth of the infamous king, but today it is more like “horse for a kingdom”. Or more correctly, one could joke, if the matter was not as serious as that. If we are fed something else than promised on the label, it is fraud.

The industry, FSA and the government seem to be playing ball with the responsibility. The conservative-led government, clearly ideologically bent towards a small state apparatus, says that ultimately the retailers are responsible for what they have on their shelves. One of the meat processors in Britain says that it is the responsibility of the FSA to tell what kind of meat is safe for human consumption. Findus was slightly sluggish in withdrawing their ‘beef’ lasagnes from the supermarkets as was Waitrose in informing us that they have withdrawn a batch of 'beef' burgers with pork.

Now some of the horse has been tracked to Romania and the meat was used by a French company who passed it to the actual French lasagne-makers for their Luxembourg plant to use. The episode has resulted with photoshoped images of cows cursing the horses [the Romanians] coming here to steal our jobs. The laughter masks the seriousness of the situation and reminds of the unpleasant undertones in current discussions. We will know only in April if there is horse in school and hospital meat dishes. The government is passing the responsibility to the local level, although the health minister is ultimately responsible for the NHS and in that way for the catering there. Nobody can guarantee anything in the world of international food trade. Worryingly, the government does not recognize that with a ‘Food Safety Agency’ they should be safeguarding the nation. Now when it seems that some meat processing plants were also stretching the definition of beef and lamb to include horse, strong regulatory body is needed.

If there is ‘bute’, the horse medication in the meat, the whole episode takes a more sinister turn. As a Finn, I have no objection to feed my child horse if it is good quality (and preferably it comes in the form of a cold cut as is customary in Finland). Suddenly, I am faced with a dilemma with some burgers in my freezer. Number One Son likes them and they are 98 % meat with some salt and black pepper. They are probably OK and I have already previously admitted feeding him processed burgers. The government has been saying that we should continue to eat processed beef dishes, since there is no proof that they are ‘contaminated’ (= actually not beef at all) or at least 'bute' is not harmful for all. Cameron has suggested that he would be eating manufactured lasagne, although where he might do this is unclear. As a millionaire, he has the money to source organic beef from a specialist butcher for all his family’s needs. It is just normal people wondering, if their children are munching beef or horse at school.

Anyway, I think it will be safest to feed Number One Son with something that at least superficially looks like chicken strips or white fish. Friday will bring more lab results, so then we may be a bit wiser.

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