Saturday, 9 February 2013
Murder at the Gallop
The thing is it's caught everyone on the hop. The retailers (Tesco), the manufacturers (Findus) and the regulators (the Food Standards Agency). Then there's the Government department who seems to be saying, when they can find a Minister with any front, that it's everyone else's responsibility. Plus ca change - how apposite that Frenchie phrase given the subject at hand.
The Farmers Union, clearly worried that we'll stop eating any sort of meat, including good old British beef, have suggested that this contamination of our beloved lasagne is due to criminal elements. Foreign criminal elements mind you, not the home grown variety. According to one farmer our British meat is so regulated that you know exactly which beast and its name your piece of rump or chop comes from. He went on to say that because of all this regulation our home grown stuff was pricey - which is why our burgers etc were filled with foreign meat. Dah!
Even if there are nefarious forces at work in our slaughter houses and those on the continent it doesn't really get the industry of the hook. They should have arrangements in place to catch these criminal practises (as Jules and Sandy would say). But they don't - do they.
Effective testing of food is expensive, whether it's carried out by the industry or the authorities. Over the years, testing done by Government has been cut back or responsibility passed into local authorities or the industry. The reason is clear. It's in any government's interest to pass on the cost of regulation to the industry or consumer or both. Unfortunately, local government has been squeezed financially so there's less money to be spent on effective testing and monitoring. Also the trend has been to get industries to regulate themselves. The idea here is that it is in an industry's own interest ( reputation, confidence etc) to effectively manage its own behaviour. We've seen where that's landed us bank wise.
Unfortunately it's expensive to have loads of technicians dropping in on businesses checking their stocks. It costs money employing the staff and it disrupts the business. There are cost pressures. Supermarkets need to keep costs down, they don't want to employ an army of checkers.
What do they do? They draw up contracts which include quality assurance clauses. This puts the onus on the supplier to guarantee that what's being supplied is kosher. No need for Tesco to employ any checkers, as long as they are reassured by the supplier that their product is ok. The supplier, not wishing to bear the cost of employing an army of technicians, draws up a similar agreement with their supplier. As long as their supplier reassures them that everything is ok,that's fine. That's not say there's no physical checking somewhere along the chain; it's just minimal.
There will be lots of documents showing that all along the food chain everything is exactly as it should be. Except no one has properly checked that's so.
It's all down to trust, or more accurately keeping costs to a minimum and shareholder value to a maximum.
So what's happening with Findus' lasagne and Tesco's burgers isn't an aberration, the actions of a criminal minority. It's what we should expect.
Can I suggest that you write to your MP explaining why you're not surprised that herds of horses have turned up in the food chain and asking him what he's going to do about it.
After all if you can't trust your MP to get to the truth who can you trust?