Throughout the horse meat scandal I’ve felt like I’m witnessing some perverse Grand National, where the horses that fall at the dreaded Beecher’s Brook are finding themselves being carted off to abattoirs across Europe to be reclassified as beef burgers.
In all the media coverage, the resonating word is ‘ CONTAMINATION ‘.
Contamination has such a sinister ring to it, conjuring images of men in yellow suits chasing E.T through Elliot’s house. It automatically sets the tone for what you are about to read. You can never accuse the British media of using alarmist language to obscure and dilute salient information. Oh No, wait, of course you can. When the story took an international turn, the cheers would have been deafening around fleet street. Nothing more palatable to a British tabloid than an excuse for casual racism. UKIP must be loving this story as the fingers have started pointing accusingly towards European meat producers and processors. Bloody Johnny foreigner contaminating our green and pleasant council estates with his wrongly labeled equine budget delicacies.
The F.S.A is now frothing at the mouth to show duplicity and systemic rigidity in their controls, testing procedures and diligence. Definitely not an agency that can be nobbled or whose efficiency can be diluted by big beautiful corporate interests. Posh boy politicians giving good sound bites about the severity of punishment that will befall anyone mis-labelling their peasant’s gruel. A prime minister who is more likely to lend a protestor stomping Dobbin to a disgraced, newspaper editing redhead than sit down and eat one that is nestled into his Findus pancake
Watching this unfold has made me think, ‘When is someone going to ask the right questions?’
Basically through the hilarity of self-regulation and piss poor legislation, supermarkets can put anything they like in the food they sell. Hidden in plain sight through enigma baffling labelling, the constant conjecture regarding health and nutrition and more importantly: through price.
Why is no-one discussing the money?
Supermarkets are all commercial, profit hungry businesses. They have managed, with full political backing, to obliterate a food-producing country, such as ours. The remnants of which are now left to be bullied and dictated to by the enormous financial muscle of big corporate supermarkets. The fair price that a producer could rely upon has now been eroded by the colossus that is supermarket purchasing departments. The Machiavellian stranglehold that supermarkets have has been allowed to dictate everything. The savagely fought market share battles have resulted in prices being driven lower and lower.
Are we complicit? By accepting cheap food at face value, have we ignored the wider implications?
Independent stores couldn’t compete with such price dominance and people voted with their feet. The insidious methods deployed by corporate interests meant that the small independents never stood a chance. Life is expensive and supermarkets managed to offer food that was in direct contrast to continually escalating living costs. Consumers have always held the key. If everyone stops buying in supermarkets, they close.
We didn’t though. Perceived convenience, choice and price, like a fluorescent light to a moth, attracted us in the millions. We embraced supermarket culture whole-heartedly. Seemingly oblivious to the miserable, hormone pumped chickens or the litres and litres of milk cheaper than the water from the tap.
We’ve been brain washed into thinking this disingenuous corporate pricing is real and what we pay is fair. It isn’t. Decades of not paying enough for what we consume has resulted in a distorted reality, we no longer understand or appreciate the true cost of food production. Legislation has endorsed the capital ideal, allowing supermarkets the free hand to squash competition and ultimately change the food landscape forever. The ability to differentiate between fact, bullshit and propaganda – in its true sense – becomes much harder when what we are fed is erroneous , political ambiguity.
The premise of a supermarket in theory should be a good one: large, multifaceted, convienant shopping all under one roof.
But….and it’s a big fucking but
…..by financially undercutting the reality of food production, supermarkets have changed what we perceive as the true cost. Cheaper and cheaper food will eventually lead to cost cutting methods: to deliberate contaminants and more synthetic materials. Nom nom, sounds delicious, ah?
There is a paradox: having created a low-price point food market, the supermarkets are now tied to providing for it. In direct opposition to escalating world food costs. Having created a consumer who has no idea of how much things actually cost to produce and is unwilling or unable to pay more, the supermarkets have had to come up with more and more ingenious and let’s not forget, financially profitable ways to meet the self-created demand for the cheapest food.
How do supermarkets control costs, make a profit and yet still mange to produce cheap food?
If, of course, some level of respectful equilibrium is to be preserved between producer and retailer……sorry, I had to stop typing to let the tears of laughter fall down my cheeks. Supermarkets aren’t bound by ethical or moral values, they are bound by money and dictated to by customer demand. If squirrel turds become the zeitgeist of Michelin and organic foodie dining, you can bet Granny’s plastic hip on the fact that it’ll turn up in the ‘ special selection’ aisle of your local supermarket.
The path to cheap processed food is greased by the sheer financial muscle that supermarkets can flex towards their suppliers. If we imagine, a mafioso hood extorting protection money in a Coppala movie, I think we wouldn’t be far from the truth. Insidious and legal yet just as ruthless. Lobbyists have ensured that there is no legislation to stand in their way. Palms have been legally greased, standards have been suitably dropped and the hilarity of self-regulation has prevailed. Basically, the worship of corporate money, more jobs, higher tax revenue and increased market share has led to a situation where supermarkets can pretty much do exactly as they want. Competition has been obliterated.
Small producers can’t compete, they don’t have the financial means or clout. They don’t have the legislative protection or the political support and worse: they don’t have the loyalty of the consumer. Who has been drip fed disingenuous pricing for decades and now expects a chicken to cost less than a packet of cigarettes.
When small producers close, we lose real choice. The supermarket notion/ brand of convienance has actually, paradoxically, limited choice by eradicating fair competition and dictating price. Our food landscape has changed forever.
Suppliers to supermarkets are having to find cheaper and cheaper ways to produce the same products. Meat is expensive and the only way to reduce that cost in processed meat is to buy cheap animals that didn’t cost a lot to ‘ farm’. So welfare standards are the first thing to go. The term ‘ fit for human consumption’ is a pretty broad and loose term. Diluting the product with filler is the next way to reduce costs. Less meat percentage and more oats, grains or starches. Lastly, the dreaded ‘ contamination’ word – run E.T run: deliberately replacing the advertised product with a cheaper alternative. This month it’s horse, who is to say that in six months time it won’t be Polish hamsters, Welsh starlings or Latvian squirrels.
Although I have primarily (only) singled out supermarkets, this lesson in fucked up food commerce is in reality being brought to us by every large corporate/ brand food buyer that has the power to dictate price and cost to its suppliers and customers. Which would explain why this barium meal of corporate greed and capitalist vomit swallowing is now being shown to be so far-reaching.
I don’t want politicians giving sound bites that are baseless and ludicrous. Palming off the great uneducated voter with speculative assumptions that it must be criminality on the part of the abattoirs. When the system is so intrinsically stacked in the favour of the corporate interest, when the politicians themselves are guilty of presiding over a system that spectacularly got into bed with the very organisations it was supposed to be regulating. Politicians forget who they are representing, what their role in society is and who they ultimately answer to. Corporate cock gargling has to stop.
Horse did not turn up in boxes labelled beef because some criminal minority in a far-flung corner of eastern Europe decided to up their profits by feeding Dobbin through a mincer. Horse turned up in Processed food because no-one involved cares about anything except money. The consumer is so far down the pecking order that it would actually surprise me if they were a consideration at all. It is no great shock that the demographic affected are also the poorest, the least likely to vote and the least socially mobile. I mean. if you’re buying 100 burgers for two pounds you kinda deserve what you get, no?
No. No you don’t.
I don’t see how attacking the consumer for his/ her eating preferences is even relevant. Everyone deserves transparency and honesty in the production, labelling and selling of the food they eat. Everyone deserves a regulatory body or system that will enforce and protect that transparency and honesty. A body that has no vested interest in the corporations it is regulating. You can’t help but feel that the current societal system is creaking under the pressure of being a bit shit, a bit out dated and a bit heavy with the weight of self-serving corporate giants. Giants who are beyond the power of legislative controls. Giants who have subverted, realigned and influenced every political system in order to preserve their own status and interests. This lesson of equality seems to have been forgotten by the middle class foodies now attacking the social classes who buy cheap burgers for their children yet can afford to have Sky TV. There is a time to educate, teach and lecture, this is not that bandwagon. Prominent food writers getting all condescending on radio 4 about the idiocy of shite food consumption just obscures and confuses the actual issue. Which is simply how corporate interests have created a system that puts profit above social responsibility and how a political system has failed to protect its citizens from self-serving, corporate cunt-arse-ed-ness. (My lexicon: patent pending!)
Now, in theory cheap food is a great thing. The ever-expanding poverty line and increasing living costs have made cheap food a necessity to millions of people. Modern living in Britain has denigrated the importance of good (for you) food and large corporate interests have ensured that the consumer has been constantly befuddled by the reality of their food choices. Cheap, quality food is a necessity and not just a marketing campaign to lure certain sections of the populous into your store to stock up on edible carcinogens, sugar laden soft drinks, over salted processed rodent bolognaise and twenty Rothmans. The responsibility that comes with large corporate dominance has to be, firstly, to the consumer and secondly, to the wider society that has been affected by it.
Reading Tesco’s statement of Pr damage limitation is enough to give you the dry heaves. I’ll summarise for you:
“ We at Tesco’s are really sorry for the bubble bursting in the ‘who gives a shit what methods have been deployed in the production of your gruel’ market. We will try to not fuck our suppliers over so much in the future. We will work closely with them, to make sure they don’t deviate from our dictated practises. Luckily the endorsed animal welfare standards that we have to hit are so abysmally low that we don’t really have to work too hard to get a couple of badges of honour. (thank you RSPCA, red tractor and FAWC).
Anywho.. by being seen to be repentant and by not totally accepting responsibility we can permanently avoid meddlesome legislation that could hinder our desire to dominate the market. So please accept our disingenuous apology and remember we only give a shit about money.”
I don’t want to hear supermarket/ food brand PR bullshit and neither should you. They want our money and only our money. We need a political system that doesn’t view corporate interests with such a glassy eye of infatuation. A political system that protects all its citizens and not just those with money. A political system that values the basic rights of everyone and doesn’t use the class system to enforce an idea that some people deserve higher standards than others. A political system that above all else acts in the best interests of the society as a whole and not just a privileged or corporate minority.
Without this kind of political system. Finding horse in our food, when we bought beef, will only be the beginning