Horse Burgers

Why is everyone so stunned by the discovery of horse DNA in so-called beefburgers? It seems that the desperate scramble of everyone involved in the lifecycle of these burgers to pin the blame on someone lower down the food chain has left a more unpleasant aftertaste than the burgers themselves. Once again, consumers are only too happy to vilify food manufacturers and supermarkets as money-grabbing and careless, without accepting that they themselves play a part in the chain.

The fact that nobody noticed that the horseburgers tasted funny suggests to me that some people have so utterly lost touch with what real food tastes like that they are prepared to eat anything, provided that its got a nice name. As any parent know, it’s the oldest trick in the book to get a three-year-old to eat something they claim not to like: disguise anything as inoffensive chicken and they’re none the wiser. Nobody would fancy the idea of eating a mixture of various unethically reared meats from around the world mashed up on their plate. But throw in some herbs (or at least that’s what you hope they are) and shape it into a pattie and bob’s yer uncle: it’s a delicious burger. People don’t like the thought of eating horsemeat, but there’s actually nothing wrong with it in terms of food safety. This illustrates that we’ve become so disengaged with food production that we only care about what we think we’re eating, rather than making sure that we know.

I’m willing to bet that the burgers involved in the scandal were very cheap. We need to start asking ourselves how a supermarket can afford to charge such low prices, and ask ourselves whether we’re really happy not really knowing what goes into our dinners. Of course supermarkets are businesses, so they are designed to make money, but at the end of the day they are not going to charge more than is strictly reasonable for a decent cut of meat, they are in constant competition. If you opt for the cheap versions and decide to ignore the issue of not really knowing how the supermarkets can afford to sell something so cheaply, you’ve got to accept that you cannot expect the same standards of quality in production: corners have to be cut somewhere. You’ve got to admit it’s a bit hypocritical to buy a product purely because of the price without asking where it’s come from, or ascertaining exactly how many people have been involved in its production.

Time was if you had a complaint about a product you could go straight back to the village shop where you bought it and ask them who the farmer was that produced it. Now, of course that is unfeasible nowadays, but the number of middle-men involved in this scandal is incredible. Surely it is possible to produce a burger without swapping large quantities of frozen meat between warehouses? Human error is unavoidable, and the likelihood of mistakes happening surely increases with each new foster parent introduced into the burger’s childhood?

Yes, good quality meat is expensive, and I’m sure many people will feel it’s their human right to be able to eat meat every night of the week, but actually it’s not. More to the point, it’s not especially healthy, nor is it particularly efficient given the global population rise. If we want to complain about being mis-sold meat, it is entirely up to us, the consumers, to make clear to producers that we are not prepared to eat food that it improperly labelled with suspicious phrases such as ‘produce of more than one country’. We cannot expect them to change until we do.

BY: Kirstin Fairnie