Horsemeat and regulation

Given the amount of Shergar appearing in the nation\’s food chain there\’s not unnaturally a call for more regulation of said food chain. As EU Referendum keeps telling us, such regulation is an EU competence so don\’t expect our homw grown politicians to be able to do anything.

However, it\’s also a self-solving problem. We don\’t actually need more regulation:

Tests carried out by Tesco have confirmed that its frozen Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognese, which was withdrawn from sale a week ago, is up to 100 per cent horse meat.

OK, so what\’s happening about this then?

The level of contamination suggests that Comigel was not following the appropriate production process for our Tesco product and we will not take food from their facility again.

The food chain itself, under the threat of simple publicity, is taking the necessary steps to make sure it doesn\’t happen again. And it\’s most certainly odds on that that company responsible, Comigel, will go bust. Which will be a salutary lesson for anyone trying it on again.

Let\’s put this another way. The food chain is going to be horse meat free (except for what is actually labelled as horse of course) a few weeks from now. Long before anyone at all manages to change the food regulations.

So, the necessity of changing the food regulations is what?

18 thoughts on “Horsemeat and regulation”

  1. Exactly! Yet try and find this perspective from any mainstream commentators. It’s regulation, regulation, regulation. But there’s another development. Butchers are finding business is booming so maybe some people will finally realise that so called “budget” burgers and ready meals are not such good value after all, even if they contain 100% non Shergar meat.

  2. Not quite. We need to know that the horsemeat is there before anything can happen and it appears that the tests were not carried out frequently. I would however imagine that suppliers will now be doing those tests more frequently without regulation.

  3. Frederick is on the money here.

    As it happens, everything is fine: some people have eaten horse, and at absolute worst that means they’ll have been exposed at a low dose to a veterinary drug which is slightly more dangerous than aspirin. For credible brands (which Tesco and Findus are, in the context), exactly what you say will take place.

    But what if the contamination had taken place in a way that actually harmed health, that caused people to die – like the melamine-in-Chinese-baby-milk scandal? At that point, sure the brand is destroyed, but more regulation and more inspections would have caught it earlier and led to fewer deaths.

    That isn’t to say that the current food bureaucracy in the UK is necessarily too weak, or even that it isn’t too strong. But if you don’t have one at all and leave it to the free market, you end up with the same situation as Victorian London or present-day China, where people regularly die from adulterated food.

    Tim adds: Interestingly, I’ve just been reading about that Victorian London thing. Yes, vast amounts of adulteration by 1850. Often through ignorance as well as perfidy. By 1860 brands had started to develop on exactly this basis. We work bloody hard to make sure that it’s good food. At a premium. And people bought it in droves. The particular book I was reading made the point, not that they were sympathetic to it particularly, that this emergence of brands, consumer awareness etc, actually solved the contamination problem before the law did.

    There’s a fascinating little study to be written about the Chinese food market right now I would have thought. Given the adulteration issues are brands arising?

  4. JohnB, but don’t we already have loads of regulations and inspections. And still it slipped through. Just saying that we need more and more and more regulation just means that more and more and more expense is added to the products. Eventually you get to the point where it becomes worthwhile to take the risk and adulterate the product to make a quick criminal buck. The big name brands won’t do this, they’re brand image is worth too much for any risk. But small companies will take the risk.

    So after all the extra bureaucracy you actually get to the point where you are effectively encouraging people to avoid the excessive regulations.

    The ultimate regulation is banning something, and still drugs get through and are criminally driven.

  5. Enforcement by reputation only works if you have a big brand, like Tesco or Findus. How can I know that the burger I buy from the van outside the football stadium is horse-free, if there isn’t a decent inspection system and control of the food chain?

    Tim adds: If brands are known to be horse free, as you say, and non-brands are not known to be horse free and you buy non-brand, then obviously you don’t care whether it’s horse free or not, do you?

    So why should your choice be limited by regulation?

  6. Yeah but no but…

    Equi-pies SA gets found out providing dodgy meat. Result ? Lots of people lose jobs and the owners/major shareholders emigrate to Guadeloupe with all the cash that they creamed off.
    Meanwhile Romameat gmbh just changes its name, goes off and finds a new market to contaminate.
    Pointless bureaucracy may not work but market forces themselves are not always sufficient.

  7. Ha ha just seen the Mail. The source of this dodgy meat really is called

    Abator Roma

    Reality overtakes satire once more…

  8. Spotted this during some work this morning:


    “about 58% of French food manufacturers had modified proportions of ingredients in an effort to cut costs, while 46% had tried to use less expensive ingredients”

    Note the date: 13/12/12 .

    The phrase, “tried to use less expensive ingredients” tells you all you need to know and I would expect this particular trade journal to be monitored by the FSA and its Euro equivalents. That alarms bells appear not to have been heard, well…..

  9. @ SBML

    “JohnB, but don’t we already have loads of regulations and inspections. And still it slipped through.”

    I think this is the first point to be addressed.

    How come the mass of existing regulation didn’t capture this? Was it supposed to? If so, why did it fail?

    Is this a case of people saying ‘we need more of that thing that failed’?

    Or is that that our masses of regulation around food supply and packaging don’t extend to anything that would ensure that the meat *in* the packet is that described *on* the packet?

    If it’s the latter, then more regulation is entirely reasonable.. but please can we not have it designed by the people responsible for the old regulation… because they’re clearly not up to the job.

  10. TTG: short answer is both. There are two different regulatory schemes for meat.

    One is a chain of certification, such that if you have a packet of mince from Tesco then in theory, you can take the serial number and find out exactly where it was packed, which slaughterhouse(s) it came from, and which animals they were slaughtering at the time. Obviously, if your supplier is Romanian Gypsy Former Horse Transit Operatives LLC, then there is scope for these documents to be untruthful. And if you’re dealing with a few suppliers, each a bit more honest than the other, then it’s been effectively laundered by the time it reaches a serious brand.

    The other is proactive testing to see whether stuff you’re trying to sell contains toxic things. Previously, this hasn’t included DNA tests to show whether it’s the right sort of meat, because that’s never really been much of a thing outside of famines and similar bizarre situations. I imagine it now will.

    (the reason for the current shenanigans, which is absolutely hilarious, is that Romania passed a law banning the use of horses as public transport providers. Cue: half a million no-longer-economically-productive Romanian horses.)

  11. Isn’t it all the EU’s fault? Apparently there was some directive that stated that the gunk that collected in abbatoir drainage siphon traps could no longer be scraped out once a fortnight and sold as prime beef mince.

  12. “Isn’t it all the EU’s fault? ”

    No it’s the consumer’s fault for expecting meals to cost less than 40p a portion and require only ‘zapping’ in the microwave.

    No demand for frozen value burgers or ‘beef’ Lasagne equates to no need to cut corners to reach this sub-standard level of muck that some people allow themselves to eat.

  13. You are all missing the obvious.

    The reason horsemeat was enjoyed by millions of Britons was a regulation banning horse carts from Romanian roads.

    So regulations can have unintended results. Who’d have thought…..

  14. JamesV (#13) Oddly this does relate to the EU but not in the way you suggest – Check out the Book ‘The Castle of Lies’ by Chris Booker and Richard North (who writes the EU Referendum Blog) and you’ll see how Britain, over 10 years was forced to adopt EU standards, centralise its meat inspection service into a single national bureaucracy and how dozens of local top -quality slaughterhouses were closed and replaced by huge, industrial concerns that have indirectly led to the situation in which we now find ourselves.

    Not the point you were making (some dig at the UKIP, I imagine?) but that’s the reality, sadly….

  15. In view of how pliant the uk population is under any sort of spin – why has there been no suggestion that horse meat is really good for you.
    Why – because horses exercise which is well known to a good thing. And cows are just plain idle. ETC.

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