Horse meat runs faster than authorities…

Photo reportage of open air market. (EC Audiovisual Services).

Photo reportage of open air market. (EC Audiovisual Services).

Every now and then, at irregular time intervals, the European food production chain is shaken by scandals that make consumers feel quite unprotected against the greed and the remorselessness of some producers and traders. Everybody understands that there are huge holes in the control and the food products labelling system, probably except the competent (?) authorities. Before the current alert of doctored horse meat being sold as beef, was the e-coli alert in Germany, the crazy cows epizootic outbreak in Britain, the chicken fed with raw sewage in Belgium and so on. This list contains only some of the food chain high notoriety incidents, with smaller alerts being a routine never reaching the 8 o’clock news.

After every food scandal bursts out, because it is not possible to be kept away from the Press, European regulators invariably call a conference in Brussels to cover the loopholes in the system. At least this is what they say. Seemingly those holes are so many and large, that it is logical to doubt if there is a system at all. Horses can pass through them, no? Actually whenever there is some regulation, there are no people to make sure it is respected.

Not to forget that nobody told us that it was not illegal to feed English cows with animal proteins, a practice that after many years turned them crazy. Nor any measures were taken against the German authorities for wrongly accusing the Spanish cucumber producers as the source of the e-coli contamination.  Berlin afterwards said nothing about the possible loopholes in their own systems. One has to recognise though, that if such a system exists somewhere, it has to be in Germany.

In short the European food control systems and early warning networks seem quite open to abuses, fraud and bribery. The people staffing them must be so impotent or careless in making sure that regulations are followed, that the whole thing looks like the Greek tax collection system. This time, with the horse meat in beef burgers, the stuff has being going around Europe for weeks or probably months, without any competent authority reining it.

The English bought it from the French, the French ordered it to Cypriots and the Cypriots had it from the Romanians. It’s rather cosy for the West Europeans to blame it to an ex-communist country, where the government services presumably may be under the spell of bribe taking and poor effectiveness. The fact remains, however, that the beef burgers with doctored horse meet in them, crossed half of Europe without being detected. Not to underestimate the possibility that the meat mix was produced in Britain itself. The British police forces raid yesterday slaughter houses and food producers.

It’s not only that. More English food retailers are now on the alert and found that their beef burgers contained pork meat also, without this being mentioned on labels. God knows what else is in there.

Today’s EU agricultural ministers’ informal meeting is devoted to “mislabelling” of food products. This is a nice way to put the fact that European consumers have being eating doctored horse meat without knowing it. What about the rumours or probably the fact, that this horse meat contained traces of substances improper for human consumption used to treat some horse diseases. Still, even if the label conveyed the information that there was horse meat in the burgers, would that had been enough? Would the label have contained the information that the horses were taking veterinary medicines? Obviously not, something like that would have been utterly absurd.

At the end of the day, it seems that nothing could have stopped the horse meat from being used to make beef burgers or any other food product. And this possibility is most alarming. Let’s see what the agricultural ministers are to decide today.

 

 

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