What can we learn from Horsebeef?

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The horsebeef scandal has been instructive in many ways.

Firstly, it shows us how far sectors of our food industry have fallen in the search for ‘cheap food’ and, with child obesity and type 2 diabetes rampant, it is a sharp reminder of the implications for us and our loved ones.

Secondly, it has highlighted imperfections in the food chain. It is shocking to learn that our major supermarkets and food manufacturers have been doing nothing to check what has been delivered to them for years – but plenty to lever down the prices and margins of their suppliers.

We should be asking “Whose interests do they prioritise?” – and it is clear that criminals have been at work. They must all be prosecuted – from the crooked abattoir owners and meat packers to the major international brands, both retailers and manufacturers, who have wrongly labelled their products and profited – maybe for years. They must all be punished – heavily.

Thirdly, it underlines the importance of our local shops, local suppliers and artisanal producers. They have been under the cosh for years as the supermarket chains set out to mop up what is left of the independent trade with their ‘local’ supermarkets – which sell the same products at higher prices. We need to act with our wallets and purses before it’s too late.

But what’s the real lesson?

It’s simple.


Every food item on our table has a story. ‘From farm to fork’ is an often-heard phrase all of a sudden – so let’s hear the story, and truthfully.

‘Everyday low cost beef burgers’ need an appropriate narrative.

How about “made from desinewed meat mechanically-recovered from the carcasses of various animals we know not where from after all the better meat has been removed. Heavily salted and full of fat, connective tissue and collagen, other low-cost ingredients and colouring. Will have lost up to 30% of its uncooked weight when served”?

Alas, it’s unlikely – but what we can all do is listen more carefully to those who do have a quality story to tell. Let’s demand to hear those stories and see evidence of provenance at the point of sale – in retail outlets and restaurants, and let’s pay a little more to reward the efforts of honest producers.

We will always get the food we deserve – what horsebeef has taught us is that it may not be the food we want.

So, three simple rules: –

Think provenance

Buy local whenever possible

Pay a little more


Tim Mott