My Kingdom for your dinner!

You wait years for one, then they all come at once.  That is, stories with a dubious or tenuous equine link.  Or in other words, we now know what happened to Richard III’s horse, and your humble scribe once again wishes he had the artistic ability to express it in a cartoon!

I’ll leave it to people with something interesting to say[1] to comment on the haplessly horseless monarch.  But the horsemeat story is crying out for an angle that seems to have eluded the Chattering Classes, and I’m faintly wondering if it might even have a very local aspect.

OK, to recap for posterity where we’re at.  Horsemeat has been discovered in processed food products supposed to be beef.  Nor is it a one-off: it’s widespread!  Big scandal: how has this been allowed to happen?  And a food scare: if this can be allowed to happen, what else could be in our food?  Horses (which are, after all, abused in a very athletic context) get pumped full of hormones we don’t want in human food.  The story is shining a spotlight on long and complex food chains, and everyone implicated is pointing fingers of blame at someone else.

And why haven’t the retailers who sell food to the public protected us?  Well, in that most relevant question the evidence is clear: they do protect us.  When was the last breakout of salmonella or e-coli attributable to supermarket ready meals?   Whatever processes they have are working perfectly well to protect consumers from contamination.

But hang on!  It’s not food poisoning or BSE we’re worrying about, it’s horse hormones!  How do we know those aren’t in the food chain?  Well, speaking from complete ignorance of food processing and testing but a little insight into basic science, I’ll stick my neck out and say I don’t believe that happened.  Why not?  Because with today’s rigorous levels of testing, such chemical contamination would surely not have passed undetected!

You[2] should be glad that those who run your food chain focus their testing where it matters, and aren’t devoting disproportionate time and effort to testing things irrelevant to your wellbeing.  At least hitherto: I suppose they’ll now have to add another cost to your food.

Meanwhile, when vox pop consumers are asked their reactions, most of them give the perfectly rational reaction: if they’re prepared to eat cow then why not horse?  If they’re happy with the taste then what’s the difference?

Oh, and yes, I did say a very local angle in the second paragraph above.  How so?  Well, Dartmoor is famous for our ponies, some of which are usually to be found about 15 minutes walk from my front door.  Do they feature in some yet-to-be-discovered branch of this food chain?  And if the fallout from this deprives someone of profit from them, how many will be allowed to remain a few years hence?

[1] I discovered that blog while googling for an image I could snarf for this post.  I gave up on the picture, but enjoyed the blog so much I just had to share.
[2] Excluding myself and others who are unaffected by virtue of not eating meat.

Posted on February 12, 2013, in food. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. As I see it, the most worrying feature of the horsemeat debacle is that it casts doubt – to put it very mildly indeed – on the rigorous traceabiilty standards for meat that were supposed to be introduced in the wake of the BSE epidemic.

    So that’s a whole bunch of testing that taxpayers and/or consumers (I don’t know how the cost is supposed to be distributed, but I know it’s there) are paying for, and it now looks very much as if they’re not getting it. That’s a scandal in itself.

    I now suspect that the talk about hormones and the like in horsemeat is a diversionary tactic to distract attention from this more salient point: what is happening to the money that’s already earmarked to prevent this sort of thing?

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