Deep in the midst of yet another food industry crisis one can be forgiven for wondering how, in this day and age, this can happen. For those of us who remember the salmonella crisis or BSE and the devastating impact they had on the farming and food industries, it is extraordinary to think that, with so much emphasis on traceability and provenance, we can still find ingredients in our food that shouldn’t be there. Never mind the fact that in the UK we may find eating horses repugnant, it’s the fact that we have no idea really where those horses came from and what state they were in when they went into our food that’s most alarming. One thing we can guarantee is that they weren’t caringly fattened steeds from a conventional farm!
Being very familiar with the work of World Horse Welfare, the charity dedicated to protecting and promoting the welfare of horses around the world, the Conscious Communications’ team is well aware of the issues relating to the European horsemeat industry and the long-distance transportation of horses across Europe for slaughter. If you’re not aware of what goes on, it’s worth reading some of the information for the charity’s website. Thousands of horses and donkeys face a miserable prolonged demise at the hands of unscrupulous traders every year and many of them are diseased and unfit to travel, let alone eat.
It beggars belief that our government can reassure consumers that there is no risk to human health in eating meat from horses that have come from unknown sources. How can they make such a claim when charities like World Horse Welfare have been presenting them with evidence of the scandal for so many years? The shame is that, being a seemingly non-UK issue, the UK media has paid little attention over the years so the plight of these horses has gone unnoticed on our shores, with the exception of a few articles in Horse and Hound.
So, what next? The people who engage in animal cruelty and illegal trafficking on this scale are not about to simply say ‘sorry’ and stop doing it. The companies that process the meat may be prosecuted and stop using their suppliers but the trade will not cease, it will simply go further underground. These are people who think nothing of driving horses and donkeys, already half dead with disease and fatigue (and probably full of the banned drug bute) for thousands of miles, with no food, water or rest, until they meet their grizzly end.
The biggest issue in this whole sorry tale is that of trust. Trust is such an important commodity, whether your customers are consumers or other businesses. People like to do business with and buy from people, organisations and brands they trust and if the trust continues un-abused then businesses flourish, whether they’re selling lasagne or holidays.
As a small business built with trust and integrity at our core, we know the value of trusting business relationships. When trust breaks down, as in any relationship, there can be massive fall-out and the damage to businesses involved in the horsemeat scandal is currently immeasurable. We are sure many will not survive but all involved are equally to blame for inadequately policing their supply chains when their customers had placed trust in their integrity. For this there is no excuse.
We would like to think that one positive consequence of the horsemeat fiasco may be a resurgence in the ‘back to basics’ movement. Some of our most delicious and nutritious foods are, after all, those which are cooked from scratch and eaten in season, with a sprinkling of fresh herbs from the kitchen garden. There are no hidden, salts, sugars, fats, colours, flavours or DNA in the things nature provides for us. We may even find another net positive effect in this – a reduction in obesity, CHD, diabetes and any number of other diseases that drain the life out of people and resources from our NHS.
So, while the environment secretary meets again with the food processors, retailers, FSA and others, in an attempt to get to the bottom of this mess, it would be good to think that our rather romantic notion of people turning their backs on ready meals and stocking up on good old fashioned potatoes, cabbage and apples instead, may become a reality. After all meat and two veg is exactly what it says it is, nothing more or less, and there’s an inherent reassurance in recognising what animal you’re eating because you bought it from the farm shop or trusted butcher in your high street.