The discovery of equine DNA in beef burgers by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) this week has understandably caused widespread concern amongst shoppers. Reports say that from 27 beef burger products analysed, 37% were found to contain horse DNA and 85% tested positive for pig DNA.
The chief executive of the FSAI, Professor Alan Reilly, said “The products we have identified as containing horse DNA and / or pig DNA do not pose any food safety risk and consumers should not be worried”. Well, I’m sorry but I think consumers should be worried. Horse meat in beef burgers may not pose any risk to human health but it does untold damage to the trust and confidence of everyone who buys meat in the UK. How can retailers even begin to give assurances about animal welfare when they don’t even know what animal is in the product?
So convoluted has the food supply chain become that traceability requires Sherlock Holmes to investigate labels saying things like “This product contains meat from more than one country, born in country X, reared in country Y, packaged in country Z, driven up and down several motorways, taking regular breaks at distribution centres” – before finally landing on a supermarket shelf a million miles from its origin (not only in terms of the miles it has travelled but also how far removed it is from its living form).
This is why I have believed for a long time that it is the farmers who do and should determine the quality of our food. Free Range Dairy is all about what farmers can honestly deliver – not hype and perception on which so many food brands are built today. This is why we have begun as a movement rather than a new marketing initiative. Free Range Dairy is not about making a quick buck, it’s about building understanding and value in our milk.
The Horse Burger scandal is probably one of many food deceptions that are undoubtedly mounting on the back of the drive for cheap food. Pressure on those supplying the major retailers to deliver at the lowest possible price will inevitably result in cutting corners, substitution and abuse. At the bottom of the chain are the farmers under constant pressure to deliver more for less, many of whom see intensification as the only way forward.
Those of us working to build Free Range Dairy believe there is another way. Rather than seeing our milk production turned into an industrial process, we want to deliver high quality milk economically, from cows that enjoy the freedom they deserve. Following the FSAI’s findings who can consumers trust? Let’s take the lead and make sure that it’s us, the farmers. The roles and motives of everyone between the farmer and consumers must be reappraised. If we are to deliver honest food we need to chop as many links out of the supply chain as we can.