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Horsemeat scandal: has it changed your shopping habits?

Six in 10 people have changed their shopping habits

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?

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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I quite like horsemeat – which contains less saturated fats than beef.

I’d like to be able to buy it in this country – as I can, and do, in France. Though not from condemned race-horses that have been stuffed with ‘Bute’ and other carcinogenic drugs.

Why not just label it clearly, and let shoppers decide?

Lyn Western says:
2 April 2013

Regardless of whether horsemeat is being sold in this country, surely the fact is that it is a breach of the Trade Descriptions Act to describe a product as beef if it is not beef so this is an intent to deceive the buying public and should be dealt with appropriately.

As always it is people on a low budget forced to buy cheap food who are exploited but really it’s often much more cost-effective to buy meat from your local butcher and learn to cook the less expensive cuts and make delicious meals. Previous generations have always done this when there was little money about. There are enough cooking programmes on TV to tell you how to do it! You’ve got to realise that many food retailers are there simply to make a profit with little regard for quality. If they can get away with it they will!

Lyn,I agree with you that you don’t have to pay for expensive cuts of meat to make a delicious meal. A casserole is one of my favourites, as is a lamb hot pot; cheap cuts cooked slowly.
Where I don’t agree is that retailers have little regard for quality – some don’t seem to, or at least they have lost control of quality – hence horse meat (and what else?) – arrive in products without their knowledge. There are other retailers who do pay attention to quality – worth shopping there where there is still trust.

Malcolm, Lyn, I think you’re being a little cynical about the retailers – and so are most people. Terms like ‘exploited’ and ‘little regard’ mean that you think that all of the big retailers, who continually stress the pains they take to source even the cheapest foods as safely and reliably as possible, show that you think they’re blatantly lying.

This would be a stupid move on their part, as the penalties for being caught are so huge in money, in sales and in reputation. So they wouldn’t do it – it’s not worth the potential loss. Far from calling them out on this, the government officials have stressed that they see no health risk and began immediately looking far down the supply chain to find the scam. I don’t say that the supermarkets and big names couldn’t have been more vigilant, but that’s after an unusually careful Irish inspectorate, suspecting the Ireland-to-England horse carcass certificate scam that was eventually uncovered, went as far as to do the NEW DNA checks on carcasses. This prompted others to follow suit and the fact that horsemeat was in Eastern European mixed meat products became public here. This is completely legal; what wasn’t was the lack of ‘horsemeat’ on the labels provided by the UK factories that used this source, when the supermarkets commissioning them had already specifically asked that it wouldn’t be.

So where did that place a supermarket’s responsibilities five years ago, when the expensive DNA testing that was the only way to uncover this was only used in court cases and was available only from a few specialized labs? I don’t see them as culpable – until circumstance had clearly changed. And then they mostly did react very quickly.

It’s different now, of course. DNA testing is now much cheaper (though still costly) and many more labs have begun to tool up to provide the service, so random tests can become routine. But it’s hardly the supermarkets’ fault that they did what everyone thought then was enough checking. Legally, the retailer, not anyone in the supply chain, is responsible for any fault of anyone else – even if they couldn’t know that cheating was going on. But in truth, not in law, it’s the same situation as if you’re passed a very well forged banknote at a supermarket till, from a clip that’s come straight from their bank. If neither the bank teller and scanners, nor the supermarket cashier could spot the forgery, whose fault is it?

David, I have made the point before that by not being aware that the product some (major) retailers were buying contained horsemeat was down to them not being in control of the quality of the food they acquired from their suppliers. It was fraud that was perpetrated upon them in some cases, so their suppliers were in an untrustworthy supply chain. To me that is down to inadequate quality control. If they can unknowingly be sold products containing horsemeat, what might other products contain (unknown to them) that they buy from similar dishonest sources?
I have trust in certain other major retailers that I hope proves justified. That is not cynicism, it is a logical response to the facts in my view.
I do not understand your statement that product containing horsemeat is “completely legal” – it is not in products that are not meant to contain it, particularly when it’s quality is unknown. I would not object to buying horsemeat if properly labelled from a reputable source, assuming it to be have been properly slaughtered and inspected. Can we be sure the horsemeat sold fraudulently has been properly sourced? I don’t see why when the process in part may be criminal rather than genuine error; criminal suppliers would not necessarily have any regard for the supply of a wholesome product.

Malcolm, I do agree with you. It’s legal everywhere for human food to contain horsemeat – it just has to be declared, and musn’t be in a product that states that it’s solely something else, eg, beef. But burgers and sausages can say ‘beef’ or ‘pork’ on the label, as long as it’s made sufficiently clear that other meats are present. Look at most Hot Dog bottles and cans, and you’ll see how much chicken and turkey is in what traditionally was a pure pork food.

As far as criminal activity is concerned, I’m sure that you’re right. But sheer economics comes into this, too. This horsemeat scandal has come about because of a sudden glut of very cheap horse carcasses in Eastern Europe and some creative people spotted an illegal way to make a quick profit. Ordinarily, with horse being a premium meat, it wouldn’t be available so widely. As far as I can gather, the surplus horses in Romania would have been processed by local rules quite legally and to a good hygiene standard. It’s when the company two steps along the chain hides its provenance to sell the low-price mixed meat as a more expensive mixed meat for UK use that you get the crime. And until recently, it would have been undetectable except at huge cost.

Alwyn Wood says:
4 April 2013

Will anybody be examining what goes into the pet food we buy? Stock cubes, oxo etc?

There are regulations about pet food safety, and manufacturers must follow them. But remember, this conversation isn’t really about food safety – that never was an issue – but about labels that are fully disclosing of the contents and not misleading. And the rules about pet food are much more lax than those for human food.

Think, though. Just as for people, there’s no rule that says that what you buy to eat has to be good nutrition, just that it not be dangerous. As long as any claims on the packaging can be substantiated, no law is broken if you feed your animal junk. It was proven over 100 years ago (by Pavlov, to get a Nobel Prize) that dog, for example, digest mixed food poorly and are much better off eating meat quite separately from biscuit and other carbohydrates. More recently, it’s become known that chocolate is harmful to dogs. Yet makers still peddle ‘complete meal ‘ mixes for dogs; and owners still think chocolate is a dog treat!

The sad fact is that dogs, especially large ones, have a short life and the effects of bad diet are too little known for you to sue a maker whose dogfood is poor nutrition, yet claims otherwise. That’s why so many owners won’t feed their pets on manufactured foods.

David, my view is that this issue IS about food safety. If certain manufacturers or retailers do not know what the food products they buy contain, then they do not have control over its composition or quality. Other more harmful ingredients may be included.

OK, Malcolm, it’s about food safety – all food industry practice and malpractice is about food safety. This issue is one about substituting cheaper meats for more expensive ones rather than, say, substituting condemned, diseased meats for wholesome ones (the Derbyshire case). I don’t think the two are comparable. Every abattoir, every processing plant and every packer is subject to the possibility of health fraud at all levels, from the worker who spits into the vat to the farmer who manages to hide disease in an ailing animal to the driver who takes a bribe to swap good for poor carcasses en route between factories. We need to put all of it in proportion. The plant with dodgy hygiene because the manager doesn’t care and his workers know it is a much worse risk than the manager who’s involved in carcass substitutions, when all the carcasses have passed the vet’s inspection. We rely on vets, inspectors and police to safeguard us from criminals, and they are professional enough to see where the key risks lie.

You’re right that unless the retailer has an inspector looking at each stage and can verify the provenance and handling of every carcass and batch, then there is a chance of food safety failures. But how far do you take this? It’s economically impossible for every worker in the chain to be 24/7 shadowed by a supermarket snoop; it’s a stupid expectation. And, of course, a snoop on the snoop to see that they aren’t taking bribes to look the other way. Yet there’s no other way to be certain. No, the retailers put a sound system into place with suppliers they’ve found trustworthy. Then they police it with random checks. But occasionally, the current situation will occur and they tighten up standards again. They, like all of us, are merely human.

In the end, the paranoid will have to buy direct from the farmer and avoid meat they can’t chase into the abattoir. Even farmer/butchers have tales about carcass swapping! Or we can become vegan and risk the carcinogens in beans.

Laura Holland says:
11 April 2013

Horsemeat is usually and legally in petfood- regrettably horses are slaughtered every day-
in increasing numbers since recession has exponetially increased abandonment- the meat will go somewhere and it is unlikely that this scandal is urelated to abandonment and changes in legislation in Romania making it illegal to take horses on roads. The EU must smarten up and realize legislation in member and neighbouring staes will cause related problems and be more proactive.

Josquine says:
5 April 2013

You need to careful when looking at statistics. A vegetarian or someone who never ate processed food would not need to change their habits, so apparent survey results can be misleading. I remember this at the time of the first AIDS scares. When people were asked had they changed their sexual habits most said no, and the scandalised media made much of this But of course they didn’t. Those in stable sexual relationships, or in no sexual relationships, i.e. the vast majority of the population, had no need to change their habits.

Laura Holland says:
6 April 2013

I haven’t changed my buying habits but that’s because I never buy meat in a supermarket- it is so much more expensive I don’t understand why anyone who is not incredibly lazy does so. I am however disgusted with the attitude and arrogance of the huge supermarkets who are supposed to have a legal duty to label products accurately. It just proves what I have always suspected that if there’s a fat profit in it they would rather face the pathetic fines and bad publicity than be honest,everyone should bear this in mind when shopping in supermarkets.

Laura, but you do have to trust that the other suppliers – butchers, farm shops, markets – source meat appropriately. The major retailers are better placed to control the supply of their products; the problem is whether they are diligent enough to ensure they get what they ask for. I believe there are some who regard quality as a top priority.

Laura Holland says:
6 April 2013

I agree Malcolm, but supermarkets have proved themselves as not honest in this regard, major suppliers are in a better position to control the supply of their products, but it has been proved they do not do so. Unfortunately major suppliers are also in the best position to break the law and maximize profits, they have thousands of shareholders and therefore are highly motivated to bend and break the rules to maximize dividends. Some supermarkets not inplicated in the scandal may have a less amoral stance, but as labelling is clearly not effectively policed we as consumers are not really in a position to judge, we can only go with what we know- and that is the largest supermarkets are happy to tell lies on their packaging and then blame their beleaguered suppliers they pressurized to sell ever cheaper in the first place.


I take your point about supermarkets putting pressure on suppliers to force down prices and that is wrong. Maybe we need to think about implementing Fairtrade agreements in the UK. 🙂

Although I am far from impressed by supermarkets, I agree with Malcolm that the large supermarkets do have control over their supply chain, though obviously that does not apply to branded products they sell. I have stopped following the horse meat story but I believe that the products affected were in the budget ranges, where the margins are smallest. I certainly don’t condone this, but this probably relates to the pressure on suppliers, as you have said.

You say that you don’t buy meat from supermarkets because it is ‘so much more expensive’ than from supermarkets. That surprises me, and I wonder how you can be sure that your supplier has carried out all the necessary tests to ensure that it is fit to eat.

Wherever we choose to buy our food, it should comply with the law, including description and safety. Nothing less will do.

Peter Horstead says:
9 April 2013

What I think is particularly annoying is the subsequent cover-up, which in essence was basic fraud by the retailers / supermarkets, who were well aware of what was going on. They have been conning the public for years. I would hit them with multi-milliom pound fines…..!

What about the meat withdrawn from the shelves……probably sold on to the poor sods in Africa, or made into sausages……!

That withdrawn meat was merely mislabelled, not unwholesome. I imagine that the ‘***’ you mention in Africa would wolf it down gratefully knowing what it was – premium protein food. But the reality is that it would have been sold on for pet food, not in the UK but in a country where horsemeat isn’t a paranoid no-no for so many people.

Do we know it was not unwholesome. Was it fully traceable back to healthy horses, properly raised, slaughtered and inspected before entering the food chain? Something that enters the food chain illegally does not fill me with confidence.

Absolutely. I expressed concerns about whether the horse meat had gone through the appropriate tests on the previous page. I would be happy to try horse meat sold as such if I trusted whoever is selling it.

Malcolm, of course we can’t be SURE. We never can unless we have personally followed each animal through the whole chain from birth to plate. And with a scam being part of this problem, there IS reason to suspect that hygiene and adulterant issues are more likely.

But, in this case, not a lot more likely. The meats have been traced to two sources: Irish horsemeat ‘beef’ in English butchers – the meat was relabelled as beef on its way into England somewhere – and a glut of Romanian horsemeat entering probably a variety of food chains, via (probably) Romanian and Polish abattoirs. In all these cases, the slaughter was in registered premises, so the standards from killing onwards should have been at least to petfood standards (‘wholesome’ is part of the petfood regulations).

Wavechange, let’s use your key word, ‘trust’ and get back to the article’s main question: “What do you think needs to change to ensure the safety of your food and make sure you get the food you pay for?” In my opinion, it’s better, electronically recorded (with photos) tracking through the chain.

But we can’t expect TSOs, customs officers or supermarket checkers to be perfectly able to pick up every possible scam and cheat in advance of them being put into use – and that seems to be what most critics in this conversation want. No matter how many extra millions we put into inspection, some scams will get through as they always have done, and new cheats will be discovered and used, as they always have been. The inspectors use their vigilance and skills as best as they can, but they’re hardly superhuman. And it isn’t the supermarkets deliberately inventing and driving fraud – which, Peter, you seem to be suggesting. It’s simply a lack of clairvoyance and perfection in any of those who guard our safety – and do it better than probably either you or I could. Let’s indeed have a beefier inspectorate (pun accidental but now well meant!) and better checks by the supermarkets. But if we can’t even prevent such a simple thing as email spam and viruses, how on earth can we make our food chain bullet-proof?

David – The points you have made in your second message are very reasonable, but I think Malcolm was quite right to pick you up when you claimed that the horse meat was ‘not unwholsesome’.

I’m not quite ready to turn vegetarian so I will have to rely on trust.

Yes, wavechange, Malcolm. But it probably was as wholesome as other such mixed, processed-till-it-squeaks meat products. Not certainly, of course. By the way, from a previous comment, mechanically-recovered meat is a good analogue to the pre-civilized practice of eating the whole animal. Except in a glut season, I’m sure that the hunters would have scraped the bones, etc. and ate every nutritions bit. Not too different, then to a cheap burger!

There are retailers who source meat from known farms in the UK. To me that is much easier to control. I’d stick with that for peace of mind. We are becoming much more choosy about food quality than a few decades ago, presumably because of the problems that come to light. You have some chance being selective when buying retail, but I shudder to think what we might be buying from some restaurants, fast food, take aways – no labels there to scrutinise.

Peter A says:
10 April 2013

I am against the public purse financing the general testing of food. Defra or the FSA should require that the retailer correctly labels his food and where it is found that this is not the case, the retailer should be prosecuted. The prosecution should ask for costs including a substantial portion of the testing expenses as well as a punitive fine. Where a breach occurs that endangers public health e.g. bute in Corned Beef, a prison sentence should be available.

A long chain of supply is always inefficient in itself. If it results in cheaper food it is virtually certain that there is dishonesty at work. Some one has a tax scam or the food is being adulterated or some such.

Just spotted your comment, Peter. I see you writing that testing should be privately done, and then infringements penalized. But how can we tell that the private testing is honestly and diligently carried out? Publicly-financed testing is currently the way to police private testing – so should we stop it and just trust the private testers? Presumably you mean that those caught cheating should be fined the cost of catching them. But what about, say, the supermarkets whose tests are proven reliable when the public analyst cross-checked them? Do we fine them, too, for getting it right? We have always principally used public safety checks this way – sellers and makers are required to adhere to standards and their claims, and to check that they are doing so. The public bodies are there to police this.

In 1820 a public analyst, Frederick Accum, published the results of a huge investigation into the mass adulteration of food. Adulterated food was then much more common than pure food, and only the worst excesses prosecuted. He gave meticulous analytical results and named names of the guilty. There was mass outrage for a short time, then Accum was forced to emigrate after being accused of a trivial crime (taking book pages from a library). No public action on the frauds was taken, because many powerful men profited from the crimes. So are you saying that it’s the same today, and we should set up a private company to police the food industry, financed, I presume by the food industry and policed by them too? They’d love it, then – like the Press – insist that they’d need no further oversight and that reports of fraud were merely hysteria – as the Press are doing.

I totally agree with your comments on long-chain supply – it’s inherently risky of fraud, almost inviting it! It’s why the world finances collapsed after bundles of American mortgages were found, after being traded from bank to bank, to be far more liable to default than was expected. The fraud element seems to have been growing for a couple of decades, until the first poor ‘bundles’ matured and were found to realize far less than the buyers were told. Those who got away with it got more and more bold as they found that they weren’t being caught, so the cheating ran into hundreds of billions of dollars, all discovered as the bubble burst.

I reckon that the processed meat scam grew in the same way, with the provenance of each batch being obscured as it passed from company to company, being mixed and remixed along the way. The horse in it was unwrapper. The Irish public analyst (public purse!) spotted horse in supposed beef – a completely different UK-Irish scam – so prompting much more DNA testing, where the problem was otherwise found only in the really cheap mixed meat. In fact, that brief glut of horsemeat from Romania probably raised the quality of the burger meat quite a lot. After all, it did pass all of the safety checks!

eileenwalters says:
11 February 2014

ii dont trust any food now that i dont cook my self.i dont eat out now and will never eat out again.

eileen, whilst I sympathise with your view, you still have to trust the ingredients you use. Eggs were badly affected by salmonella (we were told), beef by BSE, pesticide residues on vegetables and fruit – all food can be contaminated before you use it. However, I maintain that buying quality (not “value”) food from a reputable source is your best bet against what, in reality, is a very small risk. I believe we need to punish with publicity and fines any company – producer, wholesaler or retailer – that supplies tainted food either negligently or knowingly. The best way to make them more responsible.

eileenb says:
18 April 2014

As a young girl at the age of 13 we offered my grandmother a steak and kidney pie and she refused saying she does not eat them as they are made with horse meat, at the time we laughed it off thinking she did not know what she was talking about. Myself and brothers and sisters never forgot this and over the years used her statement as a guideline just in case, when buying pies and steered clear of cheap pies and ready meals, sausages etc, so when the horse meat scandal came up to us this confirmed what she said. I firmly believe horse meat has been in food products for a long time and it is has only now just come to light. Some food manufacturers and supermarkets put profit before quality and the health of the people who are buying these unsavoury ready meals. I understand that it is not the “horse meat” but the mis-labelling, this leads me to ask if they can do this what else is in the foods that we don’t know about. By the way I am now in my 50’s and have never trusted ready meals or take aways.

Remember, the horse meat passed all tests – it was just not what people thought they were buying. As David in Notts [above] remarked,”that brief glut of horsemeat from Romania probably raised the quality of the burger meat quite a lot. After all, it did pass all of the safety checks!”. Obviously, it would have been better if had entered the food chain legally from an approved source and passed all tests BEFORE going on sale rather than afterwards.

There is no general concern over the safety of ready-meals if they are stored and heated in accordance with the instructions. Some might lack taste and flavour and appear unappetising but that’s a different issue. Likewise burgers; their composition might vary considerably according to price but, of the millions consumed every day, there is rarely an incident. On take-aways I think customers do have to be cautious, but many are excellent and consistently achieve high food safety ratings. Unsatisfactory storage, cleanliness and preparation are the things which usually cause concern and lead to low ratings; the signs of potentially low standards are usually evident to the observant customer [but not always], and many of the insalubrious premises operate to serve the late night trade that is less discerning or more tolerant [or comprehensively intoxicated, of course]. They still deserve protection from unsafe products, though.

Granny was very likely right, Eileen! ‘Steaks’ can come from any large animal. But it would have been just as tasty. A century and more ago, horse was the poor man’s meat; but not so much because there was anything wrong with it but because it would have almost certainly have been from old, worked-out draft horses (‘knackered’, as the saying went: a horse butcher was a knacker). So a pie prepared with old but carefully tenderized meat would have been a real treat.

In France today,bœuf bourguignon is a real treat dish. Having eaten it at French restaurants, cheap as well as costly, I still marvel at the melt-in-the-mouth joy of this flavourful dish. It is clearly from cheap cuts, as there is plenty of gristle, but even the gristle has changed to a tasty jelly – quite unlike the same-named dish from British supermarkets, where the beef is the usual tough, chewy lumps. And I’d be surprised if the French dish didn’t include the cut-offs from une boucherie chevaline as well as from beef. When the horse meat scandal erupted, the French were even more outraged than we were – but not because there was horse in those ready meals, but because they were being fooled by mislabelling. To me, that’s the key point.

Remember the other issue associated with horsemeat. Because it was an illicit ingredient it was of uncontrolled quality and could have been contaminated with antibiotics and other equine drugs. Nothing wrong with horsemeat per se, but apart from the fraud element the practical element of properly-contolled ingredients is their safety.

True, Malcolm, but remember that despite the thousands of tests that followed the revelation of the whole mess, not one case of contamination was actually found. The conclusion is that, in all probability, butchering etc. was of a good standard, and it was substituting a cheap ingredient (horsemeat offcuts) for a more expensive one that was the crime in this case. And that was only cause by the glut of horsemeat in eastern Europe at the time – the factory-scale butchers would have found it hard to shift the remainder when the best horse cuts had been sold. There is a rumour that an enterprising middleman now has a whole warehouse-full of best frozen horsemeat cuts somewhere in Europe, waiting for the best time to sell it on.

Karen says:
24 May 2014

Hi there – a very interesting debate guys! I am currently completing a dissertation on consumer behaviour around the horsemeat ‘scandal’ and how the media and supplier actions may have altered behaviour. Its interesting to see that most people didn’t mind that the horsemeat was present, but more concerned that it was from a safe source and labelled correctly to give the consumer the choice of buying it.

I would be interested to know if any of you reacted differently to different suppliers / retailers depending on their responses to the announcements. For example, its obvious that some NOW prefer Morrisons, due to their transparent supply chain – but they never actually announced anything regarding horsemeat to build confidence, people just chose to go there……

Did Tesco saying ‘sorry’ make a difference? Does the fact you can see their supply chain on-line instil more confidence now?

Any comments would be gratefully received, but please note that its reactions to the media and supplier announcements Im interested in, not to the actual scandal itself!

Thanks in advance!

Karen, my concern was with suppliers who either inadvertently, or claimed thus, supplied product containing horsement when it should not have been present. They clearly did not have adequate quality control, nor control over their suppliers. so what other products might they sell that are not what they should be? I would only buy from those who appear to have robust product control. I have no objection to horsemeat – providing it is sold as such and quality controlled.

Karen, for me the most interesting issue from this is how Tesco, our (and the world’s) biggest supermarket chain, got so much flak and were ‘required’ to grovel publicly as a result. In point of fact, Tesco had been behaving correctly at the time of the revelations. They had a stated policy about meat types, sources and labelling, and their suppliers’ contracts included compliance with that, and proving a clear supply chain. Horsemeat was (and is) banned from Tesco’s mixed meat products; in fact so is any meat except beef, lamb, pork, chicken and turkey unless (like game meats) it is a major, named ingredient. They don’t sell horse, and it wouldn’t surprise me to discover that the reason is the abhorrence of too many of the UK public to having horsemeat even in the next bay of the aisle to meat those customers are buying. Such customers would simply refuse to shop there again (“I’m certainly not letting little Angela see that disgusting stuff on the shelf when we’ve just come from the stables!”)

The issue of quality control is one where we conversants here are disagreeing. I think that the supermarkets had acted reasonably; some others don’t. When this new kind of DNA test picked up the problem, Tesco and the others began to use it in their more rigorous tests from then on. If the Irish/UK horse-into-beef scam hadn’t alerted everyone, I don’t think that these DNA tests would be in use now, a year later, and this whole problem of long supply chains and evidence-of-origin cheats would have remained uncovered. I suppose that we have the Irish Public Health people to thank for this, together with the pressure of Romanian horses being banned from main roads, leading to a brief horsemeat glut. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that kangaroo, rabbit and other meats are also making their way unknown into the UK – unless there have been DNA tests done for these meats already (they’re both pests in Australia and there’s widespread culling = cheap, unlicensed meat).

There were polls conducted on public attitudes to horsemeat at the time; a good followup would be to replicate those tests to a statistically significant accuracy, comparing attitudes then to those now, when the fuss has died down. As public opinion is largely guided by Press artificial hysteria, it’s difficult otherwise to get a true idea of what people would think if they were able to reflect rationally about the issues. But on this forum, and also in the equivalent on http://www.lovefood.com, where there are five horsemeat threads to track, a majority of the food-aware participants had no objections to horsemeat; only to the public being misled (as Malcolm says above).

Karen – My view is that the public is entitled to food that is safe to eat and is described correctly. Meat is expensive and I have always assumed that sausages, burgers and cheap ready meals are most likely to be affected by unscrupulous practices. I simply avoid such products, but we need to be sure that all meat and meat products are safe and properly labelled, whatever the price, and irrespective of whether they are sold by large supermarkets, at a butcher’s shop or at a farmers’ market.

Like Malcolm, I would have no problem with buying horse meat if it is from healthy animals, tested and processed according to standard practice, and of course labelled as horse meat.

Best of luck with collecting information for your dissertation.

Given the roasting the supermarkets received for not knowing what was in their meat products, their tarring and feathering by the tabloids, their eating of the humble pie, and their prolonged public donning of the sackcloth, I think consumers have largely accepted that everything has been put right, supply chain-monitoring has been stepped up, and better product sample examination by [or on behalf of] the retailer now ensures that these products are safe [from horsemeat at least]. So it’s business as usual, except, of course, for those of us who, in light of this débacle, were hoping to have a slice of Shergar or the knuckles from the coalman’s nag and now can’t find it anywhere.

“I think consumers have largely accepted that everything has been put right”. John, I wish I shared your optimism (or maybe your tongue is in your cheek?). I’ll stick with those shops that did seem to have robust quality control; I hope my trust is not misplaced. It must be very complicated to bring the range of foods many demand from world-wide sources and be sure that every product is as it should be. Organic? Pesticide (and pest) free. Difficult to police.

Yes, there was a bit of cheek on my tongue when I wrote that consumers now believe everything’s alright because most of the big retailers who were caught out have prostrated themselves and engaged in various acts of ritual self-castigation. It’s all gone quiet now and they think the heat is off, so I think it’s time to ask them to declare what steps they have taken over the last year to improve the competence and reliability of their supply chains, increase inspection and testing, and ensure that the product matches the description on the label.

Karen says:
25 May 2014

Wow – thanks guys! Much as I presumed really – that quality procedures were in question all along the supply chain – who was to blame for that would be a whole other dissertation, as evidence appears to suggest that prior testing procedures were not adequate, yet the suppliers / retailers obviously should have had more stringent controls initially – however there is always the question of public demand for ‘cheaper’ produce in light of the economic downturn to consider….(Obviously there are more people with a lower disposable income, increasing the demand for cheaper food)

David – I agree the interesting part is how Tesco appeared to be singled out in media articles – obviously due to their market share, and yet the actual suppliers were supplying to numerous outlets (Aldi, Lidl etc) that didnt appear to get the same publicity.

It is also interesting to see how, now, product control is the main concern and not particularly which retailer is providing that control – as long as it is there and traceable,

As you are all present here, I can only presume that your interest in this area is more than the average person and you all definitely sound as though you have done more research yourselves to now make you choices regarding meat products. As John points out, it appears as though most now see it as ‘business as usual’, though there are those such as Malcolm who want to ‘know’ things are different, rather than trusting that they are.

I will definitely be commenting on the fact that as long as horsemeat is clearly labelled as such, most people would buy it, however I do agree with David that maybe the general public would have be slowly introduced to the idea!!

Thanks for the link as well David, more interesting reading!

Once again, many thanks for your time and comments – I will let you all know how I do in July!!

Thanks, Karen.

My key point is still this, though (and worth you investigating): how far should a supermarket or other retailer/wholesaler/manufacturer go to check the quality of the raw materials in their products, and the claims made about these? Five years ago, the idea of DNA-testing meat for a dozen species, just to see if the whole supply chain was compromised, would have been laughable: it would have cost so much that people would have protested the necessary price rise as money wasted. But here they are, doing just that. Five years ago, supermarkets and food manufacturers got their suppliers on tight contracts and made an occasional visit. It was seen as the job of government inspectors to go further than this. Not so today; and all because of what’s been uncovered.

So, today they check, and the high cost of this is accepted by the public as necessary. That is the value to us of this incident. That, and the fact that DNA tests are now cheap and performed in standard food labs, rather than police forensic departments and universities. Good!

David, it seems to me there are two key aspects of food integrity. One is, as you say, making checks on what the supermarket receives. I think the other is more important – that supermarkets have full control over who supplies them by establishing a monitored chain of trusted suppliers. One is shutting the door after the horse has bolted, the second is preventing the horse from bolting in the first place. To coin a phrase.

That is exactly the point. One of the reasons that Tesco got it in the neck was because of its huge turnover, massive purchasing power for agricultural products, enormous influence on household consumption, constant emphasis on quality and provenance, and previously well-trusted reputation. Other foodstores like Iceland, Aldi, etc didn’t enjoy these attributes so the public was not so offended by their ignorance of their foodstuffs’ origins [people possibly thought that inadequate control was in the price]. The answer to David’s question is that stores which want the privilege of selling us meat products without question and who want to be trusted as safe providers of the nation’s dinners have to check every step of the way: their immediate suppliers, their suppliers, the farms and even the animals, and any other intermediaries including abattoirs, hauliers, warehouses, and processing plants. They must know everything about their suppliers’ businesses – not just hand out contracts and check the deliveries. This doesn’t come cheap but I am hoping they have learned the hard way and will realise that trust only comes at a price, which is why we shop at Sainsbury’s, M & S and Waitrose.

Karen says:
25 May 2014

Just stepping out of my un-biased researcher head for a moment….!

I agree with Malcolm in that the checks should be done prior to the produce being received by any retailer – completed at source and then at every step along the way is the point I think we all agree on.

Unfortunately, as David points out that does come at a cost and whilst we are all making more stringent demands, the question is if all ‘tested’ meats were £5 / kilo more expensive, would the ‘non-tested’ meat be left to rot – I dont think so…..

I think John is right in saying that “people possibly thought that inadequate control was in the price” at the cheaper supermarkets and that (and market share etc.) is why the publicity centred around the massive conglomerate that is Tesco.

Even just a year ago, the view of ‘discount’ supermarkets was very different – now you are a clever or savvy shopper for going to Aldi / Lidl and saving pennies, last year only the people that couldn’t afford to shop elsewhere shopped there. Therefore could these people afford to care how their meat was labelled? Not everyone can afford M&S, Waitrose and the like unfortunately.

A lot of people would like to be more ethical and they are – where they can afford to be…..a lot cannot afford to be ethical when it comes to the most expensive item on the food list – meat. This means we expect our suppliers to do it for us – but who will pay?

I can only see a vicious circle here of suppliers passing on testing costs to people who cant afford them and then these customers demand lower prices or ‘cheaper’ produce…….to meet the demand, the supplier has to cut costs…..eventually, in the current economic climate, many people will eat less meat altogether as it will simply be too expensive, or to meet demand the suppliers will have to provide two price points for meat – tested and un-tested!

Karen, eat less meat but make sure it is good meat. It does not have to be an expensive cut, nor does shopping at the “better” supermarkets need to be expensive. You may get what you pay for. More fruit and vegetables, and less meat, would harm no one. Good luck with the non-bias!

If horsemeat is currently cheaper than beef, why can’t we have horseburgers? We’ve read about the mutton dressed as lamb in the take-aways, and the horsemeat dressed as beef in certain foodstores, so it’s about time we had horse dressed as horse available anywhere so there can be good quality meat available for every price point in the market. All horses die eventually and their meat has to go somewhere; lovely lambs, little pigs and bull calves are slaughtered in their milions before maturity. Double standards somewhere, methinks.

I’m disagreeing with Malcolm again! In ‘the wild’, people would have done the same as other meat eaters: ate as much as they could of the whole animal, not just the ‘choice cuts’ of muscle meat. That gives good roughage and is much healthier. However…

…it’s a bad idea to eat highly-processed meat products, which include a lot of chemicals and are usually processed to be mostly fat and added water; ie, the protein content is low compared to the fat content. Such are typical cheap burgers, sausages and anything meaty in a cheap pie.

Mechanically-recovered meat, offal, cartilage and, in fact, anything except a few poisonous organs, are all fine as food – provided they aren’t ‘highly processed’. Of course, what comes from the meat factories IS highly processed, chemicals and all. So – if such a product became available – I’d be happy to eat food that included the ‘meat slurry’ (sounds dreadful, doesn’t it) which is the subject of this conversation IF it was in the basic state before additives – and that includes the horse trimmings that began this whole topic.

The economics of cheap food, though, precludes serving this slurry plain, or with muscle meat in sausages, etc.: the additives and extra fat can ‘extend’ it so that there is less meat in the food, so that’s what they do. The best I’ve found is in some cheaper Polish Kabanos, which clearly have pork meat in a slurry matrix, yet seem to be free of the junk. Sadly, finding un-adulterated meat products from a commercial factory is getting harder and harder: such is the economics of bulk supply. By the way, it’s the market which serves restaurants and takeaways that is the most corrupted; the rules are much laxer there than for retail foodstuffs.

David, not sure where the disagreement is. I don’t find highly processed meat attractive, but straightforward cuts – including shin, liver, kidney, as well as the very occasional rump or even fillet as a treat – are, but no need for a large quantity. Mrs R makes an excellent slow-cooked casserole which is mainly vegetables and uses cheaper beef; tasty and economical. The main thing is we trust the source of the meat.

Right, Malcolm; but I’m ALSO including as ‘wholesome’ all basic mechanically-recovered meat and all the other bits that, while they were once rustic delicacies, are now generally regarded by the UK general public, when they are described, as ‘disgusting’! I don’t mean the offal and organs that can be found, labelled, even in supermarkets; you and I both approve of them, anyway.

This ‘meat slurry’, which began the horsemeat scandal by being found to contain that animal and which had been passed from one broker to another (probably while still physically in the same Eastern European freezer store), has been found in numerous recent tests to be safe to eat. If it has been stored in basic form, as it came from the animals, I’d be happy to eat it. Once it’s been ‘processed by adding water, chemicals and extra fat, though, I’ll keep very clear!

Twenty years ago, before the invention of ‘enhancement’ of meat to ‘extend’ it, I was saying publicly that cheap sausages, for example, make from junk meat, were probably more healthy to eat than prime cuts, because of the variety of animal parts they included, and especially non-digestible roughage. That’s why dogs fed on ‘good meat’ are less healthy than those which principally eat wild game, where they consume virtually the whole of the animal. We can’t do better than to follow this natural example!

I agree with David that we should not be eating processed meat treated with chemicals. Nitrites and nitrates have been used for years for preserving meat. That helps prevent it going rotten and dangerous to eat, but there is a cancer risk due to the formation of nitrosamines.

I don’t think we need mechanically recovered meat as a source of roughage, when roughage is so readily available from plants. I would sooner turn vegetarian than eat meat slurry.

I fancy Mrs R’s slow cooked casserole. That’s is made with cheaper cuts of meat – but still very obviously meat. We don’t have to eat meat every day or in any great quantity.

Didn’t say I LIKED MRM, wavechange; just that I’d eat it. I’m all for veggies as over half of all my weekly food by weight (the new US recommendation of 50% veg+fruit gets some way towards that).

I, too, like that casserole, but I stew the meat very slowly for up to 2 days before the veg gets added and cooked quickly (roots first, the rest after 10 minutes). At the moment, I have a stash of Southern Brazilian-produced Nato military rations: ‘beef in its own juice’. It really is all meat with a little salt, and despite being 2 years past date, is superb. So I make the veg casserole with 3-4 pounds of veggies then add the pound of meat just at the end. Fantastic, and does me for several days!

Great. Let’s keep the MRM for dog food. 🙂