The recent horsemeat scandal in the UK has been a big win for the Truth In Labelling movement. It raises the questions: do we really have any idea what we are eating, where it came from or how it lived and died?
To backtrack, an investigation into some brands of meat products on supermarket shelves in the UK revealed that horsemeat was substituted for and advertised as beef. Horsemeat was also found in frozen packaged foods. It is suspected that food containing horsemeat has been served in school lunches and some hospitals and institutions.
Whilst horsemeat is eaten in many countries, it is clearly labelled as such, not just mixed in with the beef.
Why has it happened?
The cost of food has risen but people’s incomes have not. The supermarkets and the public want cheap food but it comes at a cost: the loss of quality and control over what you are buying. That is exactly what happened in the UK.
According to the Guardian:
“Supermarket buyers and big brands have been driving down prices, seeking special offers on meat products as consumers cut back on their spending in the face of recession. The squeeze on prices has come at a time when manufacturers’ costs have been soaring. Beef prices have been at record highs as has the price of grain needed to feed cattle. The cost of energy, heavily used in industrial processing and to fuel centralised distribution chains, has also soared. There has been a mismatch between the cost of real beef and what companies are prepared to pay.”
What is the answer?
To avoid similar scandals in the future, supermarkets will have to invest in homegrown agriculture by paying farmers more. As a result the supermarkets will have to take smaller profits, a fact of life investors will have to get used to. Consumers will also have to accept an increase in the price of food. While this current scandal occurred in the UK, there is likely to be global repercussions. It is high time we all realised that cheap food always has hidden costs.
How to make sure you’re getting what you pay for:
There are a couple of steps you can take to ensure you know what you and your family are eating. Always choose quality over quantity by paying a little more for a good piece of meat a couple of times a week from a reputable butcher, rather than eating cheap meat every night.
If you can, buy your meat from farmers’ markets where you can meet the farmer and get a first-hand account of how the animal was raised. Return to your local, reputable butcher, where any self-respecting professional will give you honest answers about the quality and origin of their product.
Supermarket shoppers may consider a switch from big brands and own-label products to meat that has been independently audited and accredited (see www.consumewithcare, for brands to look for).
We should never forget that we vote for the food we buy every time we hand over money for it. Where meat is concerned, it’s time to stop paying for the unknown and the third rate. The hidden costs may just be too high.
To make sure you are getting what you pay for, take the River Cottage pledge:
“I pledge that from today I will not buy anonymous meat of unknown origin. I want to know what it is, where it came from, what it ate and how it lived.”