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A Labelling Scandal

by ceebs Sun Feb 17th, 2013 at 04:31:17 PM EST

Since the initial discovery of equine meat being substituted for beef in a range of burgers in an Irish supermarket chain, we have had the situation extend to a variety of ready-prepared meals and foodstuffs. As this has happened we have had a variety of PR firms charging into battle trying to manage the reputation of a selection of food producers. As a first step we are seeing the solid attempt to designate the current problem as "contamination" which suggests either reporters, PR and politicians are being somewhat dishonest, either that or their expensive education did not extend to buying a dictionary for looking up the definition of words.

Around twenty years ago I used to do lots of agency work, and for a couple of months ended up at an industrial food plant's office, sorting out the paperwork, after the previous member of office staff had done a runner. Ended up signing more confidentiality agreements for this job than for any other job, including those that had the Official Secrets Act involved.


Anyway, one of the production lines in this factory made breakfast cereals, basically to the same recipe every day, but with different boxes, depending which major supermarket had that day's orders.

Every couple of weeks, there would be a squad of supermarket inspectors turn up and go through every inch of the paperwork, making sure that people weren't palming off cheaper ingredients than they were contracted to use, or that the full weight of ingredients were going into the product. It might work out that there was only a six-monthly visit from each one. but with all the different brands, and all the different products it all added up.

Not only did they have a contractual right to check our site and production, it was part of the company's contracts with our suppliers that the major supermarkets could go into their facilities and check their production and paperwork.

Now meat products, you've got the added risk of food poisoning, say you've cut a mix of beef and pork to save cash, then you have the risk if the pork isn't properly cooked that you wouldn't have with the beef. so I don't see how the supermarkets are going to have cut the inspections, with the risk to their brand image. On top of this you'll have all the paperwork brought in after the BSE and foot-and-mouth crisis. Both of which would force the companies to keep their eye on the ball.

The idea that the supermarkets didn't know what was going into their own brand products seems at least odd from that background, unless there has been a conscious decision not to know, with the expectation that corners would be cut to cut prices. You'd ask as well if this would be possible without some form of cartel arrangement so it didn't become the selling point of your opponents, that they checked all the way back to the farm where you didn't. As noted in this blogposting today

Zelo Street: Horsemeat - Look Over There!

Peter Marks, CEO of the Co-Op, could not have put it more plainly when questioned about where the buck stopped with the horsemeat scandal: "Food retailers can't duck this. We can't blame the Government. We can't blame the regulator (the FSA). We can't blame our suppliers. When we sell product in our shops, it's our responsibility". Thus a breath of fresh air in the fog of obfuscation

If you read the article, the CEO of Iceland, another UK supermarket chain, has an entirely opposite view, blaming it all on local government.

It's reported that 33% of UK women and 25% of UK men are saying they have given up processed readymeals, and the supermarkets are reporting that their shelves are being emptied of quorn and other vegetarian meals. How long this will last is another thing that will want watching.

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The problem is long food chains. If you don't know or even care who produced your food, or where, then you are, by definition, open to eating stuff that is not what you expected.

Processed foods are a symptom. It is often claimed that people are obliged to eat factory-produced rubbish for price reasons. This generally doesn't stand up to close analysis : people buy processed foods because they don't want to spend the time and effort of buying ingredients and preparing it themselves.

It is heartening to see that this scandal has caused at least some people to question their eating habits. The industrial food-processors will of course counter-attack, in an attempt to buy themselves a virginity :

Vertical integration is one way :
Horsemeat scandal: 'government warned two years ago' | UK news | guardian.co.uk

an announcement on Sunday from the managing director of Waitrose, Mark Price, who said that, as a result of recent events, the John Lewis-owned firm was planning to set up its own freezing plant to prevent cross-contamination.

This means that the food will be as "good" as the retailer wants it to be; doesn't really address the issues of the final consumer, as far as I can see.

Government testing?

The FSA has conceded it is unlikely the exact number of people in the UK who have unwittingly eaten horsemeat will ever be known. Its chief executive, Catherine Brown, said testing was the right way to address the issue and that the focus would be on areas of higher risk.

As long as the "issue" to be addressed is the narrow one of horse meat in burgers, her approach is valid, I suppose.

Fundamentally, horse meat is in hamburgers because there's money in it and they could get away with it. Like dope in cycling. When a new test comes out, they have to switch to some other dope : now that the DNA test has been demonstrated to work, you can be sure that they won't try that particular cheat again.

But that doesn't exactly instill confidence in the integrity of the factory-processed food chain. It shouldn't, anyway.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Mon Feb 18th, 2013 at 04:22:38 AM EST
Presseurop: Noah's burger boat (18 February 2013)


I distribute. You re-distribute. He gives your hard-earned money to lazy scroungers. -- JakeS
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 18th, 2013 at 12:27:45 PM EST
Indeed. Feels like the scandal of poison found in Chinese-produced toys a few years ago. If you're lucky, you get what you pay for. You don't get anything better.

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sapere aude
by Number 6 on Tue Feb 19th, 2013 at 08:32:11 AM EST
You don't get what you don't pay for, but the converse is not true.

I distribute. You re-distribute. He gives your hard-earned money to lazy scroungers. -- JakeS
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Feb 19th, 2013 at 08:46:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
at the canteen. There was a notice : "Our lasagne are prepared on the premises. None of our dishes come from the agro-alimentary industry".

Which I thought was bordering on indecent. Because they are the agro-alimentary industry : the canteen is operated by a big catering company. What they mean is, this is not your entry-level canteen serving factory-produced meals; they actually do prepare all the meals on the premises, and it's not bad as canteens go. But they are only as good as their supply chain. Which, I suppose, is no better than it has to be.

But I ate the lasagne.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Tue Feb 19th, 2013 at 09:12:40 AM EST
Seems to me that unless they have a herd of steers out back, they are part of the overall meat distribution chain...
by asdf on Tue Feb 19th, 2013 at 09:45:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Only steers and horse go into beef, and you don't look much like a steer to me, so that kinda narrows it down."

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sapere aude
by Number 6 on Wed Feb 20th, 2013 at 10:39:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hopefully also "no chemicals". Especially that Sodium Chloride, which older people especially seem to eat willingly.
Dihydrogen Monoxide can kill if it gets into the lungs.

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sapere aude
by Number 6 on Wed Feb 20th, 2013 at 10:29:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Supermarkets have been driving down their costs brutally whilst maximising their profits, it is inevitable that, sooner or later, somebody will attempt to grind out some denari for themselves by using cheaper "beef" than is usually available.

I imagine it's been going on for decades, everybody knew, nobody asked awkward questions

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Feb 24th, 2013 at 12:38:17 PM EST
European Tribune - A Labelling Scandal
It's reported that 33% of UK women and 25% of UK men are saying they have given up processed readymeals, and the supermarkets are reporting that their shelves are being emptied of quorn and other vegetarian meals. How long this will last is another thing that will want watching.

Get your predictions 21 months early on ET:

I suspect that as cheap meat gets lower content of quality meat (witness the EU debate on wheter meat glue should have to be declared) and an increased connection with health problems, its status will decline to a point where many might choose a more vegetarian lifestyle to avoid looking as scrap-meat losers.


A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!
by A swedish kind of death on Sun Feb 24th, 2013 at 01:44:08 PM EST


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