EU Approved Romanian Horsemeat
The Horsemeat scandal is now Europe wide with more twists than a crime novel
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London England — Have you ever watched that scene from movie Giant when the Benedict kids realize their Thanksgiving turkey is really their pal Pedro that they just fed and played with? That’s what it feels like to be British at the moment as we grip our stomachs in disgust having learned we just ate Joey the warhorse. Or Seabiscuit. Or Secretariat.
Day after day one large supermarket chain after the other has been pulling heat and eat instant meals of lasagne, spaghetti Bolognese and ready-to-fry burgers from their shelves, furiously testing the contents only to find they are anywhere from 30% to 100% horsemeat when the products are supposed to contain 100% beef. Which is fine if you are one of the 15% of Frenchmen who love a slice of cheval in a sauce du jour, but certainly not if you are a red blooded Englishman or ‘roast beefs’ as our French cousins quaintly refer to the British, a term implying a narrow, simple and unrefined palate.
At first angry fingers were pointed at Comigel, the French food manufacturer alleged to have supplied some of the supermarket brands that are in the affected stack ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap category. But now it seems half of Europe is about to go to court to sue a number of suppliers accused of the same fraud. Not to mention the UK food processors that are reported to have had their products fail the ‘all beef’ test, two of which are being raided just as this article goes to publication.
And it’s not just horsemeat. Waitrose, one of the UK’s most upscale supermarkets, has just pulled meatballs which are advertised as beef, but have traces of pork. It seems that as more is being tested, more problems are being found.
Investigating the supply chain is proving to be like trying to pick out several knots in a fine thread with a tiny pin. It spreads over several countries with everyone involved scrambling to shift the blame either up or down the chain. The animals may be grown in one country, processed in another, mixed in a third, packaged in a fourth and eaten back in the first, or second or.. you get the idea.
On the path of the horsemeat…
Findus for example, is the famous Irish brand which distributes ready meals in the UK. Some of its products are made by Comigel, who also make similar products for food suppliers and retailers in 16 countries. Comigel, it is reported on FT, get their meat from a company in south-western France call Spanghero, whose parent is Poujol, who gets its meat from a trader in Cyprus, who subcontracts from a trader in the Netherlands, who gets his meat from an abattoir in Romania. A similar pattern can be found in many EU countries with a lot of hands being slammed on boardroom tables citing trickery and deception with a plethora of ‘unnamed’ lawsuits. Indeed, where does one begin.
We don’t seem to know where it will end but at the moment the blame seems to be with Romanian abattoirs. So much so that Victor Ponta, the Romanian Prime Minister, had to face the cameras and deny fraud. He should, however, have checked his facts with Constantin Savu, Romania’s National Sanitary Veterinary and Food Safety Authority representative, who told the BBC: ‘As far as we know there was horsemeat provided from Romania, but this doesn’t raise any problem, because we have more than 25 abattoirs authorised not only to butcher horsemeat but also to export it within the EU’. Well that’s a relief. It would appear everyone knew, in Romania at least, that horsemeat was going to be on the menu and all legitimate as far as following EU directives were concerned.
Interestingly, Jose Bove, the French green activist and Vice President of the EU parliament’s agriculture committee, told FT.com that there was a glut of horsemeat in Romania due to the ban of horses from roads. He said he did not exclude “mafia scheming” and that”something has been orchestrated” and called for an investigation by Olaf, the European Commission’s anti-fraud agency. Couple this with another investigation from the BBC who found out one can buy a horse past his field ploughing or race track days for just 50 Euros, then sell the meat post-abattoir for 500 Euros and if you multiply this by tens of thousands of horses per country, you’ve got yourself a very nice little money spinner.
But Dr Sorin Minea, the head of the Romanian Meat Processors Association, is having none of it. He is convinced everyone knew exactly what kind of meat they were getting. Sitting in an office strewn with antlers and animal skins, dragging deeply on a tiny cigarette, he tells a Sky News reporter in a Soprano-like manner that all this reaction is predictable and tinged with racism because western Europeans think all Romanians are cheating gypsies. Whatever misconceptions Dr. Minea may have about western Europeans, he certainly has the Europhile bureaucrats pinned. One j’accuse of racism and the human rights crowd in the EU will come breathing down any neck they suspect, or are told to suspect.
Dr Minea also informed us that horsemeat has a specific taste, colour and texture, so importers would have known what it was. Except that we have the pesky truck drivers that see how distribution really works. One driver, known as Ali (not his real name) approached Sky News with his long held frustration that all was not right in the meat world and that it poses a health risk, especially since much of it ends up in schools, hospitals and elderly care homes . He delivers to large and small UK manufacturers and retailers alike and claims to have seen the receivers having to try to identify by smell, animal products marked only as ‘meat’. In a lot of cases, there is no documentation whatsoever for the products and there are many abuses of strict temperature controls that he and his company are supposed to adhere to.
Food Standards Agency: Scandal a ‘labelling issue’
Enter our fearless UK Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, who just yesterday, minutes before Ali appeared incognito on our screens, told us the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) advice was that all products on sale are safe for consumption and that this was merely a case of fraud – a substitution of one product for another. Paterson dismissed the scandal as a ‘labelling issue’ and urged consumers to keep buying meat products because the FSA is satisfied there is no danger to the public.
So far, we have unknown meat stored at unknown temperatures and appearing everywhere and anywhere throughout Europe. Wait there’s more. It turns out equine meat may contain phenylbutazone or ‘bute’, an anti-inflammatory given to horses to treat pain and fever. It’s banned in the EU because it can cause cancer and has other lethal effects in humans. All horses, ponies and donkeys in the EU are supposed to have a horse passport which shows the medicines they have received. But the issue of these passports is fragmented in the UK and there is no national database to track them. Even though the FSA says horsemeat in the UK is fit for consumption and is tested regularly, can the same be said of Romania or Cyprus or the Netherlands? And let’s not forget the FSA failed to pick up on the horsemeat contamination at Silvercrest, a UK meat production plant that supplied, up until a few days ago, Burger King according to the Health Sciences Institute, a publication of Agora Ltd.
It is sort of like living in the proverbial as it hits the fan. And it’s not even as though we can sneak off to France and eat nice French food for a weekend as we once used to, because the whole continent is embroiled in this mess.
My other half and I have often sat together of an evening and talked about what we would eat if the really, really big proverbial hit the fan and there was no meat available. Sammy the squirrel that digs up all our tulip bulbs came to mind. That is if tulip bulbs aren’t toxic once processed through the intestines of our local bushy tailed rodent. Are they? I suppose I’ll just have to call up the FSA and find out. NOT!