Thursday, 28 February 2013


It will come as no surprise to anyone, I think, that this month's UK news post has to be about the scandal currently involving Britain's ready meals. The presence of horse meat has been detected in 13 different frozen and chilled meal products, instead of the minced beef (and sometimes chicken!) that is supposed to be there. Essentially, manufacturers have used horse meat - a much cheaper meat than beef - to make up the total meat content in meals such as Tesco Value burgers, Findus Crispy Pancakes, Asda's own beef bolognese sauce, Iceland's 100% beef quarter pounders, and Brakes Brothers beef lasagne. These have been withdrawn from sale across the UK and are undergoing further testing, as well as the fraud extending to Europe where various products have also been withdrawn for potentially containing horse meat.

I'm not quite sure whether I have much to say on this topic (always a good start, I find!), because while I could go on about the moral issues of eating an animal that, in the UK at least, is considered a pet, or I could ruminate on the food choices of Great Britain and consider what people really expected from cheap, pre-cooked meals, I don't think either of those things are relevant. Whether or not an animal "should" be eaten is a subjective, cultural issue, and not one on which I have sufficient background knowledge to claim. If people want to eat horse, dog, snake, whatever - fine. And the fact that it makes me a bit sad that a combination of not learning how to cook, or not being bothered about cooking, or not being able to afford better food - or a combination of all of those! - isn't really a primary concern either. Some people don't get the opportunity to learn how to cook; some people do and still can't be bothered; and financial issues are something most of us are facing these days. But that last one does lead me on to something that makes me angry: people who are choosing 'value' products, or product ranges that allow them to save money, have no less right to know what is in that food than someone who can afford to (both in terms of money and education) go to the butcher and pick out their choice of fillet.

Objectively, I have no problem with products containing horse meat. As mentioned above, it's all about your background and what's normal for you. I eat cow, pig, sheep, chicken, and fish with enthusiasm, so I don't have much in the way of a good argument for not eating certain animals. But people need to know what they are putting into their bodies, so they can make informed choices. It's the lie that upsets me; the fraud and the greed and the falsehood. It's also very hypocritical, given the way that food manufacturers and the government alike spend a good deal of time advertising and promoting the idea of knowing what's good for you, with "clear labelling" and the oh-so-helpful traffic light system.

Image from The Times newspaper

So, I suppose the only thing to be done is avoid those products containing potentially ambiguous beef (those which haven't already been withdrawn), and watch it all unfold. Or, if you're feeling really British, you could always just blame the French.



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