Posts Tagged ‘horsemeat’

Paterson’s in the wrong department to wing it

12/02/2013, 11:33:32 AM

by Kevin Meagher

If there’s one thing that united Northern Ireland’s republicans and unionists alike, it was relief in seeing the back of Owen Paterson as secretary of state. His Tory grandee shtick didn’t play with either side, but it was more than his air of lofty patrician indifference, he was disliked because of his poor grasp of detail.

In that respect, he left the frying pan to jump headlong in to the fire. Reshuffled to Defra last September, Paterson is currently floundering, trying to respond to the corruption of our food-chain security which has seen horsemeat turn up, well, everywhere it shouldn’t; while Muslim prisoners have been eating non-Halal pasties. Further scandals are promised.

Paterson is suffereing because of two problems specific to Defra. The first is that the everyday substance of policy there is detailed, pernickety and hard to grasp. It favours clever, assiduous ministers like Michael Meacher or genuine enthusiasts like Elliot Morley with a personal interest in the department’s stock-in-trade. (He was a twitcher before, alas, serving a spell of bird). Assiduous and enthusiastic are not words to describe Paterson’s performance over the past couple of weeks.

The second is that the department is like a portmanteau case, opening out to include powerful vested interests. There’s quangos like the Environment Agency. The privatised water companies and their independent regulator, Ofwat. And the farming lobby. And the landowners. And the animal rights people. There are plenty of well-organised groups to fall out with and Paterson needs to do just that, firing a rocket at powerful food producers and retailers.

I remember asking a former boss of mine who had worked in the gas industry why the old department of energy was folded into the department of trade and industry. His answer? The department was simply a focal point for powerful corporates in the oil and gas industries who button-holed ministers with their own particular gripes. Better to have an energy minister in a department with a wider mandate to dilute their influence on policy.

So, too, it is with Defra. Amalgamating the old Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF) with the Department of Environment after the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak simply aggregated-up the knotty issues and vocal lobbies.


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The Shergar burgers story tells us its time to look again at supermarket regulation

17/01/2013, 09:40:18 AM

by Peter Watt

This may end up being a bit of a rant so apologies.  Horsemeat, or rather horsemeat pretending to be beef in Tesco beef burgers; it was the rather shocking and grim story that we all awoke to earlier this week.  Much of the reaction surrounded the fact that the story related to the eating of horses – something we are culturally programmed not to do in our horse loving country.  I read several articles and countless tweets that explored the seeming contradiction inherent in our love of eating cows, pigs, chickens and sheep and so on – but not horses.  I also read a lot of jokes – my favourite being, “next time someone offers you a free burger, take it.  Never look a gift horse in the mouth.”

Now I don’t eat meat so I guess it’s easy to laugh, but then I saw this joke and it made me reflect:

“Those Aldi burgers were nice but I prefer my Lidl Pony”

It made me reflect because it suddenly clicked that the errant (mostly) beef burgers were part of the value range on offer by Tesco.  In other words they were from a range aimed at people on a budget.

I thought back a couple of weeks to a conversation I had had with a friend of mine who had hit a bit of bad luck recently.  As a result he and his family were seriously short of money and living on an incredibly tight budget.  He was telling me that they had bought some mince at a supermarket that was incredibly cheap and had used it to make a spaghetti Bolognese.  The meat was slightly odd looking raw and when cooked turned into a much reduced and gristly grey gloop.  It sounded pretty grim, but my friend had no choice but to buy this very cheap food if he was going to feed himself and his family.

But back to horsegate.  I started noticed that people were tweeting things like “this horse story is why I only ever make burgers from beef that I buy and mince myself.”  Or “it wouldn’t happen at Waitrose.” Now I have no idea whether it would happen at Waitrose but the point was that many people seemed pleased that they could pay to avoid eating that which they didn’t want to.  In this case horse.  Now I am certainly no class warrior (I suspect that this will not come as a shock to many!) but for me this pretty much misses the point of this story!  What are we saying here?  “It’s OK for poor people to eat crap as long as I don’t have to!”


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