Monday February 25, 2013
Something to chew on
SAMBAL ON THE SIDE
By BRENDA BENEDICT
As the horse meat scandal enters full gallop in Europe, the writer wonders whether one day we’ll just have to survive on fresh air and sunshine.
SO, I might have unknowingly eaten horse. Am I appalled at the possibility of having eaten something other than what I thought? Yes.
Am I shocked at being lied to? Not really.
I see it as just another serving of baloney for those of us at the end of a long, tainted and convoluted food chain. Clearly the fraudulent parties were only intent on being in the black, without caring much about consumers seeing red.
I admit I didn’t give it much thought at first because the frozen lasagne brands named in the German press had never made my grocery list. But, we have consumed frozen lasagne and I can’t silence that niggling inner voice that continues to ask, “What else aren’t they telling us?”
Because that seems to be the modus operandi these days, isn’t it? “What you don’t know won’t hurt you”, right? Happened with the banking fiasco; happened with the Euro fiasco.
While those issues sometimes seem far removed, this one hits you literally in the gut.
And when the world’s biggest food company, pulls beef pasta meals off shelves in Italy and Spain after tests reveal traces of horse DNA in them, you start asking if you should instead just live on fresh air and sunshine. Especially when the company initially stated that its products were horse-free. Now you have a spokesperson saying, “the levels of horse DNA were very low but above 1%.”
I cannot say if consumers are icky about having eaten another type of meat per se; what definitely irks everyone though is the big, fat lie that they’ve been fed.
While horse meat is consumed in some European countries including Germany, there are many horse lovers here and in Europe and I’m sure for them there is the additional emotional trauma of perhaps having consumed a favourite animal.
Eating horse meat is taboo in Britain. Some frozen meals that were produced in continental Europe and sold there were labelled as processed beef but actually contained 100% horse meat. Therefore the consternation among consumers is fully understandable. It’s like discovering pig DNA in halal products.
Empathy for liquid-eyed animals aside, there is the ongoing fear that this “wannabe beef” might contain trace amounts of the veterinary drug, phenylbutazone, which can pose a health risk to humans. The Spiegel reports that it may have entered the food chain in France.
The finger pointing is now in full force as EU member states begin the arduous task of tracing this trail of fraud. Romania, from where the horse meat originated, has since been let off the hook as it has repeatedly stressed that it had correctly labelled the meat.
Meanwhile, the EU’s policy of food safety “from farm to fork” is now under fire, with many questioning the stringency in food chain controls given that it easily transcends borders within this vast economic bloc.
This is not to say that the EU has been lax. It did implement strict controls on beef that track cattle from birth to slaughterhouse to supermarket shelves after the BSE outbreak in the 1990s. However, while this provides information on the meat’s origins, it doesn’t prevent fraudulent parties from misrepresenting the meat’s type. For that, the meat itself has to be tested.
Some press editorials have also criticised consumers for doggedly pursuing a bang for the buck.
The centre-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote: “When a scandal disturbs the peace – say, traces of dioxin are found in eggs, a mad cow is found or horse meat is discovered in lasagne, then things get better for a few days. People are horrified, there’s a passionate outcry and people change their consumption patterns for a short time, only to go right back to their old ways as soon as the coverage dies down…Complaints seem hypocritical without the admission that there isn’t enough societal pressure to change.”
But how long and how far should we go in boycotting such products, as this is not just limited to foodstuff. The ubiquitous bottom line treads most aspects of our lives and oftentimes we haven’t the slightest inkling of how corners are cut and to whose detriment – except by accidents such as this.
I could very well make my own lasagne in future. But what guarantee do I have that I’m getting exactly what’s described on the labels of all the ingredients?
I can exercise caveat emptor* until the cows come home. But unscrupulous businesses have got to stop feeding us bull.
Brenda Benedict is a Malaysian living in Frankfurt. She may have to get over her queasiness and read Eating Animals after all. *The legal doctrine of “let the buyer beware.”