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Flogging Dead Horses

Lunching with friends on Saturday, and ignoring the screaming headlines about beef products infused with horsemeat, I ordered a hamburger.

I should point out that, despite the name, the dish was made from beef, not ham.  I mention it because, in the interest of absolute clarity, dishes with the word ‘ham’ shouldn’t contain beef, any more than products sold as beef should contain horse.  The rules need to be changed.

A decent beefburger – as it should henceforth be called – is something I enjoy occasionally rather than regularly.  I certainly didn’t feel on Saturday, as the blood-red juice trickled delightfully down my chin, in the slightest bit afraid that I might be at risk from some virulent intestine-munching tapeworm prevalent in Romanian horses.  

It was of course an abattoir in Romania that was at the centre of the first revelations in what has become an unfolding scandal.  The government and the supermarkets wasted no time in pointing this out.  The message was clear: it’s not British supermarkets that are to blame; rather it’s those unscrupulous, unsupervised, downright criminal bloody foreigners.

In the interests of fairness I suppose I should mention that there isn’t the slightest evidence that anything as harmful as Romanian tapeworms has made its way into our food chain.  Romanian horsemeat may be, for all I know, the safest in the world. Let’s hope so, because next year the entire working population of Romania will be free to enter Britain. 

It does lead one to speculate why the British government has recently been running an advertising campaign in the Romanian press warning would-be emigrants what a terrible country Britain really is, what with its bad weather, lousy health service, useless football team, and so on.  Could it be that it’s not so much importing Romanians that HMG is worried about, but importing bad practices in the flogging of dead horses.  Is that what’s going on here?

If it is, then similar ads should be running in the Irish, French, German and Dutch press, because abattoirs in those countries have also been collared for flogging dodgy processed beef.  And who knows, the scam may well involve other countries, the kind of places where, for a few paltry coins, unethical food inspectors will happily turn a blind eye to such practices as bunging the occasional gee-gee into the mincing machine with the cows.  

Of course, such malfeasances couldn’t possibly happen with our own home-grown meat suppliers. They rise above suspicion because they’re governed by rules of hygiene second to none in the rigour of their enforcement, and operate under constant surveillance by an eternally vigilant food standards agency.  The government has rushed to assure us that it is so.

What does surprise me in this whole sorry affair is that the scandal should have taken so long to break in this, of all countries.  For the discerning palate of the average British consumer is justly renowned throughout the world.  The slightest trace, the merest scintilla, of horsemeat in products labeled as beef would surely  have been detected right away.  For this oversight, foreigners must again bear a heavy burden of blame, for wasn’t it an Italian dish called lasagna that first brought the scandal to light?  

Let’s be perfectly clear – as ministers like to say, whenever a situation is anything but – our supermarkets shouldn’t be held liable, any more than the ever-watchful government.  But we know they’re not because they helpfully remind us nearly every day in full-page advertisements in the newspapers.  “It wasn’t us,” they proclaim in tones of understandably righteous indignation, “we only package the stuff they send us”.  

Far from the malicious criticism they’ve been copping, the supermarkets deserve our sympathy and gratitude.  They’ve been performing an unappreciated public service in bringing nutritious food at affordable prices to those of our citizens on modest budgets.    

And ask yourself this: which supermarkets were found to have been of flogging us the bad stuff?  Findus and Aldi, that’s who, both foreign-owned.   

Yes, alright, Tesco was at it, too, but some of Tesco’s meat was purchased overseas, so how could the company possibly be held responsible?

Anyway, let’s hope we’ve all learned a lesson – though I for one dread to think what it might be.      


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