Every bovine in the UK (and EU) has individual ID, an individual record on a centralised computer system and a passport! I’ve got over a hundred of these chuffing passports sitting in an apple box in the office.
We also have a medicine book which was inspected a couple of months ago, and because our cattle are ‘destined for the food chain’ there is a restricted selection of drugs that can be used on them, with strict withdrawal periods. These are written down in the medicines book when we or the vet treat an animal. Every time the animal moves off farm or from one farm to another or to a mart, slaughter house or whatever its passport goes with it and the movement is recorded on the central database.
This is ‘traceability’! We simple sons (and doubtless simple daughters) of the soil have been told by government and supermarkets that this is what the consumer demands.
So the retailers and their suppliers take this perfectly traceable meat, and to get their margins up, adulterate it with imported meat slurry that is ‘produce of more than one species’ never mind ‘produce of more than one country’.
Now then, horses.
Horses on the continent are all regarded as food animals. In this country they aren’t. So in the UK each horse is freeze marked or micro-chipped and has a passport (to be fair, a high proportion of them probably do.) On the passport there is a box you tick (or your vet ticks) to say that the animal will not enter the food chain, so the vet can give it drugs that it couldn’t get if it went into the food chain.
Except that when beloved family pet comes to end of its life, it can cost £150 to have the knacker take it away, or you can sell it earlier than this for the meat market. So at some point someone stares ruefully at the box on the passport that has been ticked.
Did I mention that some horses have more than one passport? Back in 2005 the government of the day wanted as little cost as possible and let all sorts of organisations issue them. Members of Her Majesties Loyal Opposition who are currently ranting about the Food Standards Agency voted for the regulations that allowed this. (Mind you so did the other lot).
Anyway the problem with horsemeat is that thanks to government being unwilling to upset voters by making it more expensive for daddy to give his little girl a pony, it is perfectly possible that horses, treated with drugs that make the carcass unfit for human consumption, have entered the food chain. Given the amount of horsemeat we export to the continent it’s only amazing that our European partners haven’t kicked up a fuss about it by now.
The other problem with horsemeat is that consumers have this feeling that if a burger has ‘beef’ in the description, beef is what it should contain.
But think about it. A quick check on the web tells me that last year Tesco was charging £3 per kilo for beef mince. (Not that I’ve ever bought mince from a major retailer.) So if your burgers cost much less that £3 a kilo, what’s in them? I’m sure you’ve managed to work out for yourself that it cannot be prime beef.
But retailers have to keep their margins up, and the major retailers are notorious for driving down the prices they pay their suppliers. The supermarket buyer will buy from the company that offers the ‘most competitive tender’ and guess what, I’m sure the buyer is smart enough to work out that at that price it isn’t going to be prime beef in a value burger.
So whilst all these retailers are hitching up their skirts and screaming (like the maid in Tom and Jerry when she sees a mouse) or having fainting fits and attacks of the vapours and claiming they’ve been betrayed, there is one question I’d like to ask them.
At the price you were paying for those burgers, what did you think was in them?