Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Horses, Foxes and Shenanigans

 If you’ve been in Britain and not been living in a cave, you’ll be aware of the horsemeat scandal (and related – but horsemeat is the one that the media has been focused on). Lots of food, especially cheap, processed food that purports to be beef apparently contains horsemeat. In the case of a Findus beef lasagne, it contained 100% horsemeat and nary a cow in sight.

Needless to say, people aren’t happy.

Unfortunately, a significant part of the media reporting around this (and people’s reactions) has been “ZOMG THE POOR HORSEY!” because, unlike our continental neighbours, British people rarely eat horse and there’s something of a social taboo about it. This, in turn, has led to a silly backlash among those who enjoy smugness about how silly silly these silly people are who will eat a cow but not a horse. Oh how silly.

Personally, I’ll eat horse. I have eaten horse. It’s nice meat. But the issue here isn’t “silly English people who won’t eat horse, you sillies” but that our food is mislabelled.

I don’t care exactly how it’s being mislabelled, I object to the deception. If I get a beef lasagne that claims to contain beef, I don’t expect Dobin. Whatever reasons people have for not wanting to eat certain food – whether it’s religious, philosophical, medical, ethical, or fluffy-fuzzy-bunny-logic – that is their choice to make. Whether they want organic or GM free or vegetarian or gluten free or kosher or whatever – people get to choose what they put in their stomachs. People need to be able to trust food labels. And people deserve to get what they paid for – someone gives you money for a beef lasagne, they are paying for a beef lasagne, not a horse or donkey or scrag end of rat.

Because horse may be fairly benign, but what else passes through? Because this has, if nothing else, exposed a severe problem with the meat industry and the regulatory organisations. We’re being fed horse dressed as beef – what else are we being fed? What else is being passed off? I find it unlikely in the extreme that we can have a horsemeat scandal that is this broad and it be the only problem with our food supply.

Illicit meat sources – and unknown meat sources – also damage or destroy the provenance of the meat. This is important for far more than pretentious foodies who only ever eat carrots that have been nurtured on the sweat of French maidens in the Loire valley and wouldn’t dream of eating carrots from anywhere else. The provenance is what ensures that the meat comes from animals that have been reared in the borderline humane methods the weak law demands. Provenance ensures they were slaughtered not just humanely, but hygienically as well. Provenance ensures the meat isn’t full of the chemicals, hormones and radiation that we disapprove of this side of the Atlantic. In fact, a vast amount of our food safety (and simple food STANDARD procedures) precautions requires us to know where the food comes from and that that source is tested and monitored.

So this isn’t negligible but it may serve to expose a lot of corruption and even organised crime. But while looking at that, we may also want to consider the very nature of meat production and sale. Particularly the idea that 6 or 7 companies across 4 or 5 countries play pass the parcel with the meat before it reaches our plate. It’s almost comic to imagine. We may also want to consider the very common complaint from food producers of the thumb screws the massive supermarkets are putting on them

And maybe, as a “where can we find cheaper food” option, we should consider expanding our palette legitimately.

And while we’re shooting at foolishness – the fox story. Yes a fox has bitten a small child’s hand and taken their finger off. It’s tragic, it’s very sad and that poor child must have been in a lot of pain.

It also has nothing to do with fox hunting. And I don’t believe even the most inbred of the Hooray Henrys actually believes fox hunting would have stopped this.

This was an urban fox – which we probably have more of than rural foxes these days. And the Hunt did not drive its band of hounds down main street. Nor, for that matter, did the hunt appreciably reduce the number of foxes in the country – because gathering a dozen or so tipsy posh people in bright red clothes merrily riding around the countryside is only a slightly more efficient culling method than stumbling round the countryside yelling profanity and hoping the foxes die from shock.

And that’s aside from some hunts actually breeding foxes.

Now I’m not against a fox cull, they’re not endangered, are a bloody nuisance and are proliferating. I also think it’s pretty pointless and we’ve got as much chance as significantly reducing the fox population as we have significantly reducing the rat or BNP populations (but if you want to hunt the BNP with hounds, by all means do so with my blessing).

And, ultimately, it’s a one off freak occurrence, like being mauled by a badger (nasty creatures) or being charged by a deer. It can happen. It happens occasionally. But you’re more likely to be hurt by your own pet rabbit (let alone dog) than you are by the British wildlife.