Monday, 11 February 2013

Findus 'horsemeat lasagne': to blame the food industry is to neglect the real scandal

So, let's see if we've got this straight. Horsemeat masquerading as beef has been sold in England and France by major retailers and supermarket chains. The products involved - frozen, refrigerated, vacuum-packed, tinned and other versions of dishes such as lasagne and ravioli - were produced and sold to retailers by French food assembly companies such as Findus, who bought their 'beef' from meat distributors such as French company Comigel, who, in turn, had bought their 'beef' from major French importers such as Spanghero, who, in their turn, had bought their 'beef' from slaughterhouses in Romania.
But now that the fraud has been discovered, and reputations are at stake, everyone in the chain is stabbing everyone else in the back in the hope of avoiding blame. The supermarkets are suing Findus, who say they are taking legal action against Comigel for product misrepresentation, Comigel is doing the same against Spanghero, who, of course, are blaming the Romanians for ripping them off.

Even more worryingly, the British imports came from Dutch and other suppliers which is why authorities now fear that that this kind of fraud exists not just in France, but in many other European countries too.

We needn't linger on the immediate and superficial question of why this fraud was perpetrated, or even where in the system it happened, because the direct reasons for it are very simple: horsemeat is three times cheaper than beef and hard to distinguish from it in dishes such as those incriminated, that which makes it a tempting option in the food industry's efforts to cut production costs to keep prices down, and sanitary, advertising and other controls within the industry are notoriously lax.

Heads shall undoubtedly roll as a result of this of course, be they those of executives from the supermarkets, food assembly companies, distributors, importers, abbatoir facilities, some mafia or other, or any combination of them. But although they are technically 'to blame' for this, they are just convenient fall guys really, because the real blame lies elsewhere.

The food industry is a cut-throat business in which retailers have been ruthlessly forcing down their suppliers' margins for years, particularly since the crisis began. But they are not doing this for the sadistic pleasure of seeing suppliers suffer, they are doing it because the public demands it of them.

Food bills are among the most onerous of all household bills, particularly for families, single parents, the unemployed, those on low wages and others who make up the many millions of the lower-income bracket. But unlike income, local and property taxes and others, all of which rise continually but can't be avoided, cash-strapped households do have an influence on food prices. Millions of people have been buying cheaper and cheaper food in order to help them to make ends meet, and the industry has been obliged to meet that demand. The fact is that cheap food has become a necessity for many people whose income has stagnated or worse.

And what are governments doing about it? Well, not much of course because they know that if there is one thing the voting public hates it's rising food prices, so they have no vested interest in pushing up food prices by introducing draconian and costly legislation to improve the quality of what is sold in supermarkets if they can avoid it. Besides, who would pay for the tens of thousands of inspectors who would be needed to enforce it? And, as Junior Minister for the Social Economy said today, "we can't put an inspector behind every side of beef."

So there we have it. We live in a Western world where people buy food which is so cheap that it cannot possibly be adequately nutritional or of good quality. Butter has given way to margarines, 'spreads' and worse, sausages may legally contain pigs' tongue, muzzle, anus and skin, fruit and vegetables are bland and antiseptic clones of what they used to be, dairy products are a joke, and it's becoming hard to find a real baguette or pastry, even in France. Prices - and quality - are being driven mechanically down by an economic logic which is way out of kilter.

The 'Findus horsemeat lasagne' story offers us not just a much-needed insight into the food industry's practices, it also comes as a stark reminder that our so-called 'advanced' society remains incapable of feeding its poorer members decently, even in 2013.

That's the real scandal....


  1. This goes way beyond people clambering for cheap meat and suppliers trying to get the cheapest meat to feed demand. Does anyone even want to know about the health of those animals, the conditions in those slaughterhouses, if you "across the pond" have been exposed thereby to disease, and so forth. I will be tweeting this post. Excellent!

  2. It seems to me that the world is getting more and more greedy – money is what is of interest to everyone, corporation, small companies, retailers, buyers, etc. profits dictate all their actions. I remember my mother patronizing a certain butcher shop because their meats were good, even though they were more expensive. Nowadays it is rare for people to be willing to pay more for quality – everything has to be cheaper, so this is the result.

    To answer your question on my blog – I don’t know how to have people subscribe to my blog – I’ll have to ask my daughter (she is the techy one.) I insert the names of all the blogs I like in Google Reader and it shows when a blog I follow has a new post.

  3. Hello Bookworm, and all this cheap meat phenomenon reminds me of the film 'Soylent Green'. We're not there yet of course, but still.....

    How are you Vagabonde? Yup, there are many people who can't afford good food and some other people, although they can afford it, prefer to spend their money on stuff like the latest TV or Smartphone. I'm in a 'lucky' group, one which can pay for both good food, which I do buy, and consumer goods, which I rarely buy. I have neither a TV or a Smartphone and that suits me just fine! :)