Friday, February 22, 2013

Feeling a Little Horse...

via BBC
The last couple of weeks have seen a growing awareness of how horse meat has entered the British food chain in an unregulated and unexpected manner. It has been blamed on organized crime and lax inspectors and what not all.
From the Guardian:
Europe's unfolding horsemeat scandal took a new twist on Saturday when it emerged that key intermediaries involved in the trade appeared to be using a similar secretive network of companies to the convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout.
The Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) identified an intermediary firm, Draap Trading, based in Limassol, Cyprus, as playing a pivotal role in shipping horsemeat across Europe.
Draap has confirmed that it bought horsemeat from two Romanian abattoirs. The company sold the meat to French food processors including Spanghero, which supplied another French company, Comigel, that turned it into frozen meals for the likes of food firm Findus, some of which had a meat content that was almost 100% horse.
Draap, which is owned by a trust in the British Virgin Islands tax haven, insists the meat it sold into France was labelled as horse. Spanghero says the meat arrived labelled "beef". Jan Fasen, who runs Draap and has denied any wrongdoing, was convicted last year of selling South American horsemeat as German and Dutch beef.
But It is a good opportunity to reflect on just how complex the food system is--and how that complexity breeds potential failure points. Each link in the chain above is another point at which inspection or regulation failed. Draap claims it labelled its product "horse." Spanghero (which is back in operation), claims it wasn't. Even within the European Union, this is a pretty complicated supply chain; by my count, it involves a minimum of six countries.
Supply chains for food map over supply chains for illegal arms. In Meat: a benign extravagance, Simon Fairlie describes how recapturing British food waste into the food system could provide a daily serving of pork for every Briton. But it won't happen--the  current system is too entrenched, too powerful. At least until they get caught serving horse to people....


video
This news report from 1948 from the British Pathé archives shows how horses were killed and sold on the black market to back-street restaurants, who then served it to customers who thought they eating steak or veal. The problem was so bad that some breeds of horse were even threatened with extinction
In the video, it is interesting to see how consumer demand for meat is characterized as being "so offensive to the British character". Horse was clearly doing damage to the legitimate slaughter trade, and consent needed to be manufactured. Because there isn't anything inherently wrong with eating horse, or dog, or whatever. There are only cultural issues--like the love of horses the filmmakers exploit here.

Will Hutton, in The Observer, has tied the introduction of horsemeat into the foodchain to the anti-government actions of post-Thatcher Thatcherites:
Paterson is one of the Tories who joyfully shared the scorched earth months of the summer of 2010 when war was declared on quangos and the bloated, as they saw it, "Brownian" state. The Food Standards Agency was a natural candidate for dismemberment. Of course an integrated agency inspecting, advising and enforcing food safety and hygiene should be broken up. As an effective regulator, it was disliked by "wealth-generating" supermarkets and food companies. Its 1,700 inspectors were agents of the state terrifying honest-to-God entrepreneurs with unannounced spot checks and enforced "gold-plated" food labelling. Regulation should be "light touch".
No Tory would say that now, not even Paterson, one of the less sharp knives in the political drawer. He runs the ministry that took over the FSA's inspecting function at the same time as it was reeling from massive budget cuts, which he also joyfully cheered on. He finds himself with no answer to the charge that his hollowed-out department, a gutted FSA with 800 fewer inspectors and eviscerated local government were and are incapable of ensuring public health.
Paterson, beneath the ideological bluster, is as innocent about business as Bambi. Even the most callow observer could predict that with the wholesale slaughter of horses across the continent as recession hit the racing industry – horsemeat production jumped by 52% in 2012 – some was bound to enter the pan-European network of abattoirs, just-in-time buying, industrial refrigeration units, food brokers and giant supermarkets that deliver British and European consumers their food.

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