Horsemeat scandal: has it changed your shopping habits?

by , Senior Food Researcher Consumer Rights 13 March 2013
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Shoppers have told us their trust in the food industry has dropped by a quarter since the horsemeat scandal broke. Has the episode made you think twice about the food you buy?

Six in 10 people have changed their shopping habits

I don’t eat red meat but I do buy and prepare it for my three-year-old.  I like to know exactly what I’m eating and what I’m feeding my son. The thought of buying one food product and getting another has really knocked my confidence.

And I’m not alone. In our survey of 2,000 adults, almost one in three now buy less processed meat, and a quarter are buying fewer ready meals containing meat or even choosing vegetarian options. In all, six in 10 have changed their shopping habits since the horsemeat scandal.

Confidence in food safety has also taken a hit. Before the horsemeat scandal, nine in 10 felt confident when buying products in a supermarket, but this has now dropped to seven in 10. The scandal has highlighted the complexity of our food supply chain. It has also become apparent that changes to food surveillance and enforcement have led to weakened consumer protection.

Horsemeat in beef products

We’re calling on the government to take urgent steps to resolve the slack standards of the food industry. This involves: more surveillance that’s better coordinated, tougher enforcement, tighter legislation, improved country of origin labelling and for food labelling policy to be returned to the FSA.

It was during routine surveillance work by the Irish authorities that meat products contaminated with horsemeat were first identified. With food fraud surveillance work suffering from cuts in the UK, we need more intelligence-led and speculative surveillance where there’s a potential for cheaper ingredients to be substituted.

Knowing where your food’s from

Cuts to local authority budgets over the past few years have impacted trading standards and environmental health. Food labelling issues have become less of a priority, as they are seen as not having health consequences. There need to be clear disincentives for illegal practices, with tougher penalties for those prosecuted. Current proposals by the government to decriminalise failure to comply with food labelling legislation need to be scrapped.

We want the food industry to regularly check the authenticity of its products and improve traceability. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) needs to be given the power to require testing when necessary, to have access to and publish the results of food company testing, and to gain access to premises for the purpose of investigations.

Which? wants to see country of origin labelling extended to cover the meat in meat products. The government should abandon current proposals to drop national rules that require clear ingredient labelling for meat products that are sold loose (not pre-packed), as these provide valuable information to consumers. We also want to see better communication from the FSA to the public during a fast-moving food scare.

Food enforcement back under one roof

Since 2010, the FSA has dealt with enforcement while the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) develops policy. Both elements used to be under the FSA, which has a remit to put consumers first. This scandal has shown that the split between Defra and the FSA causes unnecessary confusion and complication. We want all food labelling and standards responsibilities to be returned to the FSA.

What do you think needs to change to ensure the safety of your food and make sure you get the food you pay for? Will you be changing your shopping habits or the food you buy because of the horsemeat scandal?

Have you changed your shopping habits since the horsemeat scandal began?

No (63%, 860 Votes)

Yes (36%, 493 Votes)

I'm not sure (1%, 16 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,369

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122 comments

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Argonaut...

I don’t eat much red meat including pork
anyway…. seems a good time to make good
any protein deficiency by recourse to fresh
poultry, fish including the oily variety, tofu and more
pulses and veg AND no processed meats of any
kind, of course. Pulses are rich in protein.

When on holiday abroad, however, may
make exceptions but that is more in the way
of a treat or indulgence not otherwise.

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David

A key point that almost all commentators I’ve read and heard on this issue miss, is what counts as meat.

By law, almost any part of an animal is legally ‘meat’, although the public perception is that meat is ‘muscle-meat-but-not-heart-and-a-bit-of-fat. I’ve quizzed a lot of people, and found that that’s the commonest view in my area on England. So people who buy pork sausages have an expectation that only muscle and fat is in them, although this is rarely true and not required to be so. Argonaut’s comment shows this attitude clearly.

Watch a wild carnivore eating. Most of the carcass is consumed, often including hide and bones. And this is safe and healthy. So sausages and burgers made from ‘junk’, as it’s called, are really more like natural meat eating than eating prime chops – and healthier, because meat roughage is a useful part of a good diet.

Maybe we should get back to our origins in our meat-eating, yet even those Paleo diets don’t suggest eating meat the way our healthy (as they claim) ancestors did!

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wavechange

Hmmm. I don’t think our ancestors had much mechanically-recovered meat in their diets, or preservatives such as sulphites, nitrates and nitrites. Sulphites such as sodium metabisulphite can cause allergic reactions and I am one of those affected. When I was a teenager I learned that nitrites are converted to nitrosamines, which are carcinogens. I am certainly not opposed to food preservatives because a they help prevent growth of certain very dangerous bacteria. (Not all bacteria are harmful and some provide an essential role in our gut.) Have a look at what is in your sausages. Many include sulphites but even some Waitrose sausages still contain nitrates and nitrites.

I don’t doubt that meat roughage is a useful part of the diet, David, but I am not going to buy sausages and burgers. I will stick to meat that looks like meat. I don’t need to eat much or eat it every day.

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David

I agree with you, wavechange, about the sophisticated additives and inadvertant pollutants we still get in our processed meat products, even after the cleanup of the last decade. Like growth hormones and flavour-enhancers. But some of the additives are of little health consequence and are thousands of years old in their usage.

One of those is the mineral salts which were found useful to preserve hunters’ meats for journeys, and nitrites (from ancient seabed deposits) rank right up there with common salt. So do some strong herbs which are still used to flavour sausages (sage, for example, or juniper). The carcinogen issue only comes up here if you ingest a LOT of nitrites and it’s arguable that common rock or sea salt ranks way worse than nitrites for health issues.

If you don’t eat your meat fresh and warm from the killing, preservatives play a valuable part in avoiding infection. Ask any undertaker how long it takes a warm body to rot!

Sorry that you’re affected by sulphites; they’re generally the safe alternative to the benzoates which are mood-changing (hyperactivity and ADHD) in a large proportion of young people.

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wavechange

Thanks for some interesting feedback, David. I have recently started to learn about the scientific basis of historic and modern use of plants, particularly as antimicrobials.

It worries me that so many people do not differentiate between types of food additives, regarding preservatives as unimportant as food colours, for example. Many seem to think that cooking food will make it safe, oblivious to the fact that it may contain heat-stable exotoxins, even if bacteria and other microorganisms have been killed in the cooking process.

I take your point about the amount of nitrite being important, and accept that they are approved for food use, but I doubt that they would be allowed if a company tried to introduce them as new additives.

Prompt refrigeration and processing, and hygienic conditions handling meat from the carcass to the consumer has achieved a great deal. As you say, fresh meat can spoil remarkably quickly.

As far as food additives that can cause hyperactivity, I was wondering if this might be a solution to my lethargy during the miserable weather since Christmas. :-)

I would not mind trying horse meat as long as it has gone through all the safety checks.

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Phil

I don’t eat much red meat and never buy ready meals. As Which? has exposed time and again they contain high levels of salt and low levels of any quality ingredients. They’re also expensive for what they are.

So in a word no, the horsemeat scandal hasn’t affected my shopping habits.

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svendhhh

I never had that much trust in the food industry. I prefer buying local products, and proper meat over mince. I have always been aware that mince meat contains all the waste products from the meat industry, and I don’t really think that it makes a massive difference if some of the gristle, skin, tendons, fat, udders and such originally came from a horse before it was violently mashed up beyond recognition in massive industrial machinery, but if it makes people think more about what they eat and buy, and where they buy it from, then I think that’s a good thing :)

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wavechange

I very much agree. I have never bought supermarket mince or sausages, though I did occasionally buy mince when there was a local butcher that I trusted. I buy better quality meat, but probably much less than most people.

I had hoped that the BSE scare would make us a little more careful about what we eat, but there is still a lot of junk gets into food. I cannot see the horse meat scandal having a lasting effect, especially with food prices rising.

I’m not suggesting that we all become vegetarians, but there are some good reasons why we many of those in the western world should cut down on the amount of meat we eat. The fewer animals we slaughter for food the better.

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Paul

I thought that after the BSE scare all meat had to have a proper certification of exactly where it came from and its life history from birth to oven. Obviously not; or that idea has been quietly shelved.

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Karl

I occasionally eat ready meals but do cook most nights so that I know I’m getting good value healthy(er) food. My point is that if people want to eat “ready meals” (and i support people who often rely on them when there is no-one there to safely support them to cook) should be able to buy and eat with confidence what it states it should be on the pack! I have always wanted to try horse (it is popular on the continent) but not when it should be a beef burger! The food industry needs a big overhaul and the government needs to enforce it better!

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Pierre

I grew up on the continent, where “horsemeat” was standard at the butcher shops and generally widely available and safe. Although some Restaurants specialised in preparing it, most did not advertise it, thus one always had a choice. In France, some of the specialised Restaurants gained their high reputation on that meat….

However, there is a difference between what is distinctly specially labelled, cleanly safely prepared meat for the consumption of humans at the table, as against that which should never have found its way (containing a variety of chemicals, enzymes and goodnes knows what else as the sourcing was dubious or has been found to be that way) into our chain of foods under any guise, disguise, shape or form. The U.K. is simply not a country akin to the consumption of “horsemeat” (albeit for the few Restaurants who promote it, who uphold the prescribed standards and ethics that go with it) making the situation which was discovered in the context the more distateful and abject. The originators, wherever and whoever they are should be prosecuted.

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Simon

Processed food is not designed to be good for you, it’s packed with rubbish and exists to make profit for big companies. My recommendation is to keep your food simple, and make or source as much of it fresh as you can.

I stopped eating meat about 7 years ago when my wife and kids (who were 5 and 3) decided they didn’t want to eat animals. I thought I’d miss it it but haven’t at all.

Thanks to a good diet – especially fresh fruit & veg – and plenty of exercise I’m now slimmer, fitter and healthier at 46 than ever. You really do not need meat in your diet to be healthy (or vitamin/protein supplements etc).

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pmunc6

I don’t, as a rule, eat processed foods as I like to see what I am eating as opposed to having to read the contents of a meal on the back of a packet most of which is gibberish to me anyway. However, my grandsons, who thankfully visit me often, are not happy that I no longer ‘treat’ them to McD’s – I have always felt really bad when buying this rubbish as I was sure that it was not good for them, since the horsemeat scare which they are both old enough to be aware of, I will NOT be swayed by their protests. They are not visiting as often but I am sure they will come round soon – hope!

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Carole Noble

I have definitely had my shopping habits changed since the scandal. I decided that I should shop as my mum did for us butchers/bakers & green grocer that way I was being very sure about what I was buying and the standards. I still shop in the supermarket for tinned goods etc but I’ve gone back to basics for meat fish veg and bread and I must admit I like it better and I feel more reassured that I’m buying what it says on the label

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Malcolm R

This is not just about horsemeat, it is about certain food retailers not knowing the content of the products they buy in and sell. Horsemeat now discovered – probably not bad for you, but what else lurks in these processed food products that some of the retailers don’t know about – because they are clearly not in proper control of their supply chain.
Product should be labelled with the contents, and suppliers, manufacturers and retailers should be heavily penalised if the product does not comply. That will perhaps force retailers and manufacturers to take proper control of their products and their suppliers. It does leave smaller retailers in some difficulty as they will not have the resources to check their products directly, but they are responsible for what the buy in and sell to us. So it is their problem to resolve – maybe through their wholesaler. It is no different to retailing electrical goods where the CE Mark is supposed to provide consumer protection.
We have shopped at M&S and Waitrose, and as it happens not bought proprietary processed food, generally stuck with own label. We had more faith in these retailers supplying quality foods, and so far it seems they have not had a problem. So our shopping habits have not changed. Fingers crossed. Had some nice Aberdeen Angus beef sausage last night.

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Glynnis Newboult

As a vegetarian, who is always being ridiculed about my so-called ‘fads’ and faddy eating, I buy raw foods, NO MEAT, and cook everything myself. It tastes much better, is also fresher and healthier. Where possible I try to grow my own vegetables and salads, and I have always washed the foods well when purchased. I have never liked the idea of others cooking my meals for me as I am unsure about the hygiene, especially when eating out, so I haven’t changed my eating habits, at least not much.

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Jenny

No have not changed my habits. Shop at Waitrose who use english sourced products and even withdrew a meal because of traces of pork from a single run because of customers for whom pork is not permitted. They also sent a message of apology by email

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Argonaut...

Muslims are paranoic about having absolutely
no traces of pork in their food.

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David

Muslims – and Jews – are forbidden to eat pork as well as many other (but unusual) foods. Hindus are forbidden to eat beef. So it’s being faithful to their religion, rather than ‘paranoic’ to avoid these foods. Maybe the rest of us are ‘paranoic’ about not wanting female hormones, mercury or radioactive waste in OUR food? Or maybe not.

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R.Sole

My habits have not changed as I tend to buy most meat products from a butcher. The only meat i would buy from supermarkets is chicken. The recent horse-meat scandal is proof that fresh, local meats are indeed what they say they are.

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Rosie38

Personally, I’m not over concerned with the miniscule amounts already found by the latest testing & I will continue to eat beef.
However, it concerns me if people are allergic to certain types of meat (horse & pig) it could cause a severe reaction

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wavechange

Pierre raises the point of safety above. If unscrupulous people are prepared to substitute horse meat for beef, it seems very unlikely that the horse meat is from healthy animals and been through the appropriate tests to ensure it is safe to eat.

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David

It’s quite right that those who are putting illegal meats into the ‘cheap meat’ chain won’t be too fussy about hygiene, drugs, etc. But until recently, DNA testing for a different meat to that specified was so expensive that it was rarely used, and in mixed mashed meat products it was previously almost impossible to check. But in this case, the horse meat was probably fine.

I understand that most of the horse was (this time) sourced from Romania, where recent banning of draught horses from main highways led to a rapid slaughter of healthy horses which were suddenly a liability to their owners. And a scam in Ireland and Northern England led – separately – to Irish horses being used, with forged documentation, for human food (‘beef’) rather than animal feed. Apart from traces of a painkiller, which were minute and harmless, there was no health issue even after almost paranoid searching. Horse is a prime meat in most of Europe (but not the British Isles, hence the relabelling scam) so horse is in general simply one of many sources of cheap meat products. It was these two unusual events which, together with the Irish authorities’ vigilance, has led to the illegal practices being perpetrated – because of a horse meat glut – and then uncovered.

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wavechange

That’s good news, David. I don’t know why the people who substituted horse meat for beef did not sell the meat as horse meat, as a premium product, alongside venison etc.

Although the horse meat was from healthy animals and not full of drugs, I wonder if it went through the full safety checks.

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David

I’m sure it was sold as horsemeat, wavechange, but that’s a limited market and the best of those extra carcasses would soon saturate the demand (and so affect the price). So I heard that some Eastern European entrepreneur has a warehouse with half a million tons of frozen horsemeat, all legal. And he’ll wait for the price to rise again before it gets out! Such stockpiles of various foods are much more common than we’d think, most of them connected with speculation on the Futures markets.

I’m sure that with both the Irish horsemeat masquerading as beef in Northern English abattoirs and the Romanian meat going into Polish factories, the usual hygiene regulations would be followed once the dodgily-sourced carcasses were in a legitimate food chain. They don’t want to be shut down by an eagle-eyed inspector!

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Robertino

Food labelling in the single market ought to be strictly enforced by national authorities as it is in fact a European issue. Why should people be worried by horse meat, which from all accounts the british burger may have contained together with mechanically recovered “meat”? Consumers may have been undergoing such ‘wholesome nourishment’ for years? Are there any adverse signs yet in the population? Quite another matter was putting 144 000 affected beef carcasses in the food chain when BSE was rife! While there is apparently no problem with a sanitary inspected equine component of meat from a health ground, the fact is that someone somewhere is “cleverly” substituting ingredients based on the current market price differential of meat. The worry is not that “it contains horse” but what else have these criminal clever clogs added and concealed from identification in our consumer products? According to the praxis, messing about with our food is also a matter for the consumer: if you pay peanuts you may also get monkeys. Cheap is not necessarily what you will want to eat. Those of us aware of the meat trade – and the added value jungle – know only too well how easy it is to beat the system and take advantage of consumers who go on price, appearance and faith for their “processed mush”. Buy what you can recognize: whether it be rabbit, donkey, veal, lamb, horse, mutton, beef, swine or fowl. Do not be afraid to pay a sustainable price for genuine products. I personally avoid supermarket food buying, for their relentless pursuit of cutting costs and the logical outcome of that philosophy Critical enforcement of standards is essential here.

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barrie

Being vegetarian, I am pleased that people are eating less, or no meat!

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Mr Henry Cooper

The only concern I have about horse meat, is whether the animal was injected with chemicals dangerous to human consumers. Horse meat is generally supposed to be good to eat.

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Marcella Hickson

I haven’t changed my food buying since the recent horsemeat scandal as I have always bought my meat from the butcher, fish from the fishmonger and fruit and veg from the green grocer – I buy local and always know the source of my food. I never buy ready meals due to the high volume of sodium and potassium in them. My food bill is way lower than my friends. If you choose to buy cheap ready meals then are you really surprised that the content is not high quality ??? You are kidding yourselves if you are surprised about the contents of them !!!

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Carolyn

I envy Marcella the option of being able to buy from independent shops – I would if I could, but the nearest ones from where I live are about 15 miles away, so the supermarkets get most of my custom, unfortunately.

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RetiredOldGit

Since our son and daughter decided unilaterally that they would be vegetarians in 1979, we adapted to a vegetarian diet. We had to! We are all (hopefully) hale and hearty. My wife is nearly 65, and her life is a never-ending round of Theatre, Gym, walks with the neighbour’s dog etc. I just go to the pub with the crossword. Mad cow disease? Forget it. So there are foul things in the pink slime they force you to buy? Forget it. Being a vegetarian is a healthier and cheaper option. So speaks a (former) dedicated devourer of meat.

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L Porter

The only meat products we buy are steak mince and sausages (from our trusted local butcher) and also cat food. Otherwise we buy joints and whole chickens.

My children’s local schools dinners were checked and cleared of having horsemeat in them in the past.

This hasnt effected us at all.

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Sarah M

Buy local not supermarket meat and if you live in a city use the internet to order from our farm shops

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Norm

Interesting comments but no politician who wants to stay in his/her party will push for any food law as all parties are in the pay of the very rich food companies and the mega rich. Who don’t buy their food at the same outlets as the tax payers of this country?

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oliver s

Provenance is everything . Tescos have announced that they will source all poultry from UK and Irish sources in future. What about Pork? Most UK and Irish farmers are complying with all EU food directives but news programmes tell us that many other countries do not. Pork farmers have suffered because of the refusal of so many consumers to pay for real food .
Hopefully this horsemeat scandal can switch the balance

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Paul

The horsemeat fraud demonstrates exactly what happens when supermarkets squeeze suppliers to provide goods at uneconomic prices. The biggest surprise to me was the Co-op who are supposed to supply ethical and fair traded goods (and at a premium price) but this has shown they haven’t a clue where their meat comes from. Sorry but I expect this, in a way, from the likes of Tesco, Lidle and ASDA as some of their prices do seem impossible.

Many people wouldn’t be bothered at eating horses but they need to know and be given the choice. My suspicion is that a lot of the alien DNA found in products in in quite small quantities and due to different meats being processed in the same factory with poor hygiene – much as products say; ‘this product is processed in a factory which also processes nuts’.

Looking at safety. How can meat be safe when it is bought from a shady dealer in eastern Europe and traded through third parties and trailored all round Europe? The condition it is in would probably shock more than the horses and donkeys found in beef products.

What must the public learn? If they want quality, safe, food then it has a cost and they must pay for it. Four quarter ponders for 99p is obviously impossible if they are to be quality meat.

What should the government do? Ultimately they are responsible for enforcing content and labelling. It seems to me they are deliberately taking a back seat and playing down the scandal. Probably because some of them own shares in the companies involved or have other vested interests. I haven’t heard mention of one prosecution – much more important to the average person than Chris Huhne’s speeding points.

Finally, my wife switched to vegetarian some years ago and most of what we eat is quality vegetarian products. Not sure we are, or feel, any better for it, but, in theory, at least we know what we are eating (mainly micro-protein from fungi and soya, with added nuts). There’s little chance our Veggie Berger ran in the 2:30 at Cheltenham.

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Chris R

The old addage of ‘you get what you pay for’ is true. Why do supermarkets insist that food should be ‘cheap’? Think about the obscenely gross profits they make and ask yourself the question “How do they do it?”. At the cost of the original supplier (keeping prices down to below production costs) and by using “stuff” to make a little go a long way!!! Eat a properly cooked meal from scratch and then a ‘convenience’ or ‘deconstructed’ meal and compare the difference; the former would actually cost less in the long run and be more nutricious and filling – not full of water and fillers. To understand what they put on the label you would need a Phd-labelology for most of it! Go to local producers, farmers markets, local shops (if you can) – the time spent in sourcing fresh food is worth it. Supermarkets should be kicked into touch and into line as with other processed food manufacturers and label food correctly from inception to end product.

If I do not want to buy cereals/fruit/sweets from China/Americas or chicken from Poland, etc., then I should be able to make that decision by looking at the label.

I am vegetarian (thank goodness) but husband and elderly mother like their ‘meat and two veg’. I have not bought meat or processed meat/food from a supermarket for about 15 years; tending to use local organic producers for their meat. However, I am always extremely miffed at the lack of info on labels – this is my pet hate. Being a veggie for many years before it was more popular, taught me to always read labels – it was surprising how non-vegetarian food was passed off as ok for vegetarians.

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Deirdre

Food labelling needs tighter control. There are many ingredients that do not have to be labelled at present. When buying products now, I have serious doubts: is ‘organic’ really so? is it really ‘non-GMO’? Is Greek olive oil really all Greek (!), virgin oil, first pressing? Recently in Germany there has been the scandal of thousands of eggs labelled ‘organic’ which were found to be not so. UK TV has done its best to tell us some of the scams that go on regarding food; some years ago it was revealed that dyed meat condemned for human consumption had been bleached and sold to restaurants; later we had the revolting ‘pink slime’ exposures. Consumers hesitated for a while, and then continued to eat as before. We now have mislabelled fish too, as people do not necessarily recognise certain types of fish they see in the fishmonger’s.
As for horse-meat, there are plenty of horses going to slaughterhouses in eastern Europe as these countries modernise; America is building horse slaughterhouses instead of sending their horses to be slaughtered in Canada for sale eventually to Europe. So I assume Europe will soon be awash in horse-meat and desperate to sell it, and I believe there is little legislation on the sale of horse-meat, which could have any kind of drug in it. Maybe if there was CCTV at every stage of an animal’s process from slaughterhouse onward we could be more certain of what is going on, but that needs incorruptible and brave inspectors (some years ago a Dutch or Belgian vet inspector was killed when he discovered some malpractice).
I am a vegan, but, yep, I still have worries about what is going on re food production and labelling. We can’t buy everything locally produced. I understand that some time in the future we will have bananas that have been sprayed with something to stop them from going brown; the spray is made from ground-up mussels or some such. So this will be an extra treat for those who buy packaged fruit and veg that has been gassed so that it will last longer on the shelves.

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Maridor

I don’t buy processed beef products but I do buy Supermarket beef and a few months ago, before all this current horsemeat controversy, I bought some beef labelled “Irish beef” which had a distinctly unusual flavour although I had prepared it in the usual way. It wasn’t disgusting but it wasn’t very nice either so we decided not to buy Irish beef again although having holidayed on a cattle farm in Ireland we know there is usually nothing wrong with Irish beef. When the horsemeat scandal broke we did wonder whether it was not just confined to processed beef.

The other day after watching “The Great British Menu” on BBC I looked up the judges on Wikipedia and discovered a comment from Oliver Peyton (an Irish restaurateur and food critic) to the effect that he would never buy Irish beef because it probably comes from Indonesia”!!!! What does that say about traceability?

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Anna

We don’t eat processed meat products, but about two years ago I bought fresh beef from Tesco in the 3 for £10 trays. I was suspicious as it didn’t smell like beef either in the tray or when it was cooking. It was so tough and tasteless that I didn’t chance buying tesco beef again. .

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Em

The issue here is about food adulteration – not whether you eat meat. Vegetarians (and therefore the rest of us too) are not immune from the fraud and the health risks that our appointed food safety regulators and extended supply chains are failing to keep on top of.

“Virgin” olive oil is routinely adulterated with cheaper oils. Thankfully, most are not hazardous to human health, but you are still not getting what it says on the label. So, no different to the horse meat scandal then.

There are cases of vegetable proteins sourced from China being mixed with melamine and other fillers that could end up in bread and pasta. Now Google “gutter oil”. Any smug focaccia eaters still left in the room?

It seems to be the case that food miles aren’t just bad for the environment – they can be bad for your health too.

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Barry

When is someone going to be prosecuted for this labelling fraud. Its all gone very quiet. Are the supermarkets putting pressure on government who hope this goes away. Time for all these crusading newspapers to turn up the heat and ensure that the Tesco’s etc are brought to account.

Or have they been bought off as well by their big advertisers.

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Laskarina

I doubt if anyone will be prosecuted. Many years ago we kept laying hens commercially. One of our buyers resold our eggs as free range. Not true. We had two visits from officials from the town in which the deed had been undertaken and various statements taken. A total distance of about 120 miles for two persons,
Result, nothing was done about it.

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Deirdre

As an addendum: I would urge those with strong stomachs to read (if I may mention this here) ‘Take Control of Your Health and Escape the Sickness Industry’ by Australian Elaine Hollingsworth (I do not know her), which was published last year. Quote: ‘Virtually everything you eat has been chemicalised somewhere along the line . . . thousands of chemicals are added to our foods . . .’ Reading textbooks on this subject ‘may be hazardous to your mental health, and can destroy any lingering faith or respect you may harbour for regulatory agencies, chemical companies, scientists and food processors . . . all governments have been more concerned with protecting industry than consumers. ‘ Whether your eating includes canned food, flours (all kinds), soft drinks . . . it’s all covered in this book. “Poring over labels in the supermarket is an exercise in futility . . .’ she says.

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wavechange

Some people make a living by writing sensationalist books and selling nutritional supplements, and Elaine Hollingsworth seems to be one of them. Believe what she has to say at your own risk.

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Bob Jowett

I stopped eating meat years ago, when my daughters decided not to eat meat in their teens. I never liked eating meat as child but was made to eat it. I do eat eggs and some fish.
However, I feel for people who find the idea of eat a horse unpleasant and realize they have done so. People who have a religion forbiding eating pork again may have eaten pork without knowing.

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Deirdre

Well, wavechange, at least the book is out there for all producers, manufacturers, processors, wholesalers retailers, and consumers, to criticise as they wish. I have looked at Hollingsworth’s website and see she is selling very little, and what there is can no doubt easily be checked for its wholesomeness and efficacy. No-one has to buy any of it, and it would probably be too expensive to purchase outside Australia anyway, as Australian postage can be costly. I think her book is positively modest, and less sensationalist-for-selling than the usual advertising and other promotions for the sale of food, health, or pharmaceutical products, that we see daily in/on our national media. Of course her subject IS sensational, as is the horse-meat/labelling fiasco: the latter is now exposed. What Hollingsworth has written about is mostly hidden, ie Not On The Label.

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wavechange

May I suggest that you look up the Quackwatch website to see how people like Hollingsworth set out to scare the public and make money out of them. From what I have read, she has absolutely no background in science or medicine. I am not happy with how our food is produced but scaremongers are not going to help deal with the problems.

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Deirdre

Alternative thinking, sceptical, websites like these have their reasons and purposes, and in my opinion are just negative. We can always check such criticisms from all sources, weigh them up, and make up our own mind, just as we can with writers like Hollingsworth. Sceptics may enjoy their stand. Should they be sceptical about their scepticism? Nevertheless all views may provide useful insights and information. There have been people with no background in science or medicine throughout history who have revolutionised lives: inventors/discoverers just want to know and test – they have to start somewhere. There is a Chinese(?) proverb which says: ‘The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.’ Who was it who invented the wheel?

There are many examples of scoffers and sneerers for even those whom you would probably consider have a recognised background, such as Galileo (heliocentrism, arrested for life), Ford (the car), Tesla (eg air–conditioning – his principal scoffer was no less than Thomas Edison who called this ‘a foolish idea’), Semmelweiss (surgical hygiene, who was given hell by proudly dirty medics for ‘arrogantly’ concluding that puerperal fever was caused by their lack of hygiene – the cheek of the man!). Pasteur and Curie received nothing but scorn and ridicule to begin with. So it seems that even if you ARE recognised in the field in which you work, the scoffers have a field day and may not be proved wrong until well after they have died.

‘Scientific bias and vested interests in expert committees, industry and the military ensure that important evidence is not translated into policy but is suppressed, ignored or even rejected in favour of incorrect evidence, to the detriment of many millions of people’ said British scientist Christopher Busby, PhD – he has a website. For more on nutrition, check ‘The China Study’ by T Colin Campbell, PhD, which examines the relationship between the consumption of animal products and a variety of chronic illnesses, one of America’s best-selling books about nutrition. Also check out the non-profit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. They make a refreshing change to sceptical websites.

We have to take our information on nutrition where we can. Even today doctors get very little training on it. They take the Hippocratic oath, yet do not seem to take much into consideration his precept “Let food be your medicine”. That being so, I want to know what is in the food I eat.

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Malcolm R

Knowledge of your subject is essential to give assurance to your critical readers that your views have some factual basis. They may not agree with some or all of the conclusions but will at least respect the argument. If you don’t have relevant knowledge you are, of course, fully entitled to publish your views providing you don’t mislead your readers with unwarranted credentials.

I have faith in certain food suppliers that the food they sell is not designed to deceive me or do me harm. Additives have been necessary for a number of reasons. Most of us are living longer healthier lives than previous generations, so it cannot be too bad.

What causes most harm is something we can directly control – overeating and the consumption of high fat, high sugar food and drink that leads to obesity.

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Mervyn Wilmington

The main theme of your article – that consumers should know what they are buying/eating – is exactly right, and government should ensure that they are able to do that.

However, whilst it might be implicit in what you say, perhaps the point could have been made that many people, including myself, would have no objection to eating horsemeat provided we knew that was present.

I thought it a great shame that tons of food was thrown away by the supermarkets. If they had puts labels on saying that there might be horsemeat present, and that it was half price, they would have found many customers. I would have been one.

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Malcolm R

The point being missed is that by not knowing they were buying in products containing horse meat they did not have control over their supplier(s) – so what else might be in it that they didn’t know about? I wouldn’t touch it if they gave it away.

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Mervyn Wilmington

I suggest that you read again what I actually said. I stressed that the key was that consumers were entitled to know what they were buying/eating.

If the retailer could not fulfill that requirement by proper provenance, it follows that the retailer could not meet the requirement. However, that apart, as I recall, there was little, if any, evidence that suggested that such meat was injurious to health directly. It might be part of a long term poor diet, but that is not the same thing.

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wavechange

Mervyn – Are you aware that the food could be unfit for human consumption? It could be from diseased animals and/or ones treated with drugs. Counterfeit food products are unlikely to have been through the tests that are used to ensure – as far as reasonably possible – that meat is safe to eat.

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Mervyn Wilmington

I don’t think that I have said anything inconsistent with your comments.

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wavechange

I’m no expert but I believe that food must be withdrawn from sale if it could be unfit for human consumption. That’s why fresh food is not sold after its ‘use by date’. Like Malcolm, I would not touch it, though I would not mind trying horse meat that has been properly tested.

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Malcolm R

Mervyn, I did read what you said: “there might be horsemeat present” implies they don’t know. But it was not your comment I was really targetting, simply reminding us that this is not just about horsemeat, it is about not knowing the content of food the retailer is passing on. If the retailer has not full control over his suppliers, no matter what label they apply may not represent what they actually have received from that supplier.

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Mervyn Wilmington

Malcolm – I’m not sure it is worth protracting this, but my point about ‘there might he horsemeat present’ related only to the food that was being destroyed, not to food more generally.

As matter of fact, we buy very little ‘processed’ food, and when we do we are confident about its source. I agree that largely rules out some supermarkets. However, the simple fact that horsemeat was present would not prevent me from eating food.

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Terry

I’m a vegetarian thank God. What bothers me is that if the supermarkets can put horse meat in products and label them as beef what else are getting away with. The government seem too close to the big supermarkets so they can do what they like. Bring back the small shops where we can have choice as we certainly haven’t got it with the supermarkets. Then we will know what we are eating.

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wavechange

Food adulteration has a long history and that includes a lot more than meat. This started centuries before we had supermarkets. I have seen examples of poor hygiene in supermarkets but worse in small shops.

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Malcolm R

Small shops sold Findus which I believe was adulterated, and they have much less chance to control their suppliers, so I would put more faith in reputable large groups who have the resources to police their purchasing properly – providing they do it!

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tizliz

Now it is fish. I don’t mind eating Coley but I don’t want to pay Cod prices for it!

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ian

hasn’t affected my buying in anyway. Why change it hasn’t harmed me if i’ve eaten horsemeat and didn’t know it. Advertising is the main problem in reality, because it doesn’t state that horsemeat makes up a proportion of the ingredients.

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Mike Day

I have eaten horse meat when it was for sale at butcher’s shops on the high street. Today’s problem is not with horse meat it is the duplicity of processed food manufacturers and the lack of inspection.
Like Marcella Hickson, I shop at a local butchers at a farm shop where all the food is traceable.
I shop at my local supermarket for other household goods but never for food.

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Malcolm R

Ian, but what else might be in your food that you (and probably the retailer) don’t about? It is this lack of control that worries me, not the horsemeat per se (it is quite nice).

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Michael Grazebrook

Let’s not forget the success story at the heart of this. Full marks to the Irish Food Standards Agency for the original discovery: perhaps we can learn from them. And the temptation for a cover-up, given the scandal’s impact, must have been great – yet there was none. Of course the FSA could have done better – I wish it had been us, not the Irish, who found it! But I do have the sense that, along with the Irish, we have some of the best food safety in Europe.

Of course lessons should be learned, but I for one reckon they’re doing a great job but shouldn’t get an increased budget. The balance is right.

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Val

Even if food labels do list the ingredients, you still won’t know what you’re eating. Will your meat, eggs or even milk label tell you whether the food contains antibiotics? I don’t think so. And yet antibiotics are regularly given to healthy livestock to prevent outbreaks of disease. I don’t even trust the fruit and veg you can buy. The label doesn’t include details of what it has been sprayed with.

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Val

Even if food labels do list the ingredients, you still won’t know what you’re eating. Will your meat, eggs or milk label tell you whether the food contains antibiotics? I don’t think so. And yet antibiotics are regularly given to healthy livestock to prevent outbreaks of disease. What are they doing to our health? I don’t even trust the fruit and veg in supermarkets. The label doesn’t include details of what it has been sprayed with.

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tizliz

I always make all my meals from scratch as I have never like the quality of meat in ready meals. I do worry about antibiotics and try to buy organic meat if possible but only if it comes from the UK.

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