News that Downing Street has public criticised the retailers for their silence in the on-going horsemeat scandal may well be a significant development in the questionable relationship between the politicians (at Westminster and elsewhere) and the large supermarket retailers. With Downing Street criticising the apparent reluctance of stores involved in selling affected products to step up to the plate and comment publicly on the horsemeat crisis – this could be interpreted as David Cameron telling the supermarkets that they are on their own and that its time to face the music.
The BBC quoting Number 10 sources reported that they were told that “it isn't acceptable for retailers to remain silent while customers have been misled about the content of the food they have been buying". They also allegedly said that those selling affected products should answer key questions such as how did the crisis arise, what inquiries have supermarkets made about their suppliers and how can any similar problems be avoided in the future.
Some people will always seek to maximise profits, regardless of the consequences for the rest of us. This whole sorry saga is about chasing profit, with the pressure coming down from above for the cheapest red meat, so that profits can be maximised by the retailers at the cost of quality. The retailers silence is telling, as their persistent failure to ask too many questions (or looking the other way) on the part of the larger retailers has led us to where we are now.
Irish food inspectors announced last month they had found horsemeat in some beefburgers made by firms in the Irish Republic and the UK, and sold by a number of UK supermarket chains including Tesco, Iceland, Aldi and Lidl. Since then, a growing number of UK retailers have recalled processed beef products found to contain horse DNA. UK police are currently investigating allegations that horsemeat was mislabelled as beef have arrested three men on suspicion of offences under the Fraud Act.
In response to finding themselves (temporarily) out in the cold some the reluctant purveyors of hidden horsemeat said that they would speak out once the results of tests to determine the presence of horsemeat in processed meals are released. The first results of industry-wide tests are due to be released sometime today (Friday 15th February 2013), they were ordered by the Food Standards Agency after the revelation that quantities of horsemeat had entered some beef ready meals.
Samples of beef products have been examined in laboratories for traces of horse DNA as part of the tests, and food retailers said they would have results from about 30% of their product ranges.
Retailers said getting through all their processed beef ranges could take several weeks. Some shops have already recalled products they found to be contaminated - including Asda which withdrew a beef bolognese sauce on Thursday, the first fresh beef product to be involved. Aldi, Tesco and Findus have also withdrawn some beef-based ready meals.
The problem with hidden horsemeat is not limited to the UK and Ireland as food safety experts from across Europe are due to meet in Brussels this morning to try to draw up plans on how to conduct DNA testing of a large number of beef food products across much of the continent in the next few g weeks. This meeting follows accusations from the French government who accused meat processing company Spanghero of knowingly selling horsemeat labelled as beef. The firm has denied the allegations, saying it only ever dealt in meat it believed to be beef.
In the wake of the hidden horsemeat scandal it will come as no real surprise that trade in local butcher’s shops has risen by around 15%. What’s important is that the entire meat industry isn't tarred with the same brush and that people finally recognise the benefits of buying produce sourced locally. Here in Wales, we have excellent quality red meat much of which reaches us through our local butcher and other local shops rather than the larger retail outlets.
Our surviving local butchers and local shops are the vital backbone of the Welsh meat industry, so it’s important that they receive the support they need and deserve. This horsemeat scandal will knock customer confidence in the supermarkets, so what better way of helping this important sector of our local economy than by buying the safer, healthier option in local butchers shops and giving a much needed boost to some of our small businesses.