Groundhog day. Two decades on from BSE, we’re still discussing the dubious provenance of processed meat products. ‘Horsegate’ takes us right back to the 1990s, a time of acute consumer mistrust of what ends up on our plates.
Set up in 2000, supposedly to safeguard our food, the FSA now looks like part of the problem, what with its Krebs era pro-GM bias and that busy revolving door with Big Food. How effortlessly Tim Smith moved from his post as director of the agency to become group technical director at Tesco! Asleep on the job while its Irish equivalent was on the case, the FSA looks more like the food industry’s faithful pet than a ‘consumer watchdog’.
Whether they used the same meat processors or not, other chains have an urgent PR job to do convincing us that their defences against fraud and adulteration are better than Tesco’s. Hence one-page newspaper ads from Morrisons (even though it does not use the same processors), stressing the vertical integration of its UK supplier base.
” Consumers are not in the mood for any malarkey behind the scenes”
Morrisons may not be implicated in Horsegate, but it cannot be let off the hook so easily when it comes to GM. Last year, it shot itself in the foot when it allowed its farmers to use GM feed, possibly a factor in its lacklustre Christmas sales figures. Marks & Spencer’s GM-free guarantee, on the other hand, is a keystone in its reputation for the highest quality and safety standards.
What’s crystal clear in the wake of the horse meat scandal, is that, once again, UK consumers are most definitely not in the mood for any malarkey behind the scenes in food production, or about to embrace new, unproven, potentially catastrophic technologies, such as GM.
While our so-called regulators bury their heads in the sand, evidence of the human health risk posed by GM stacks up. The latest news that GM maize and soya used in animal feed contain a viral gene that might not be safe for human consumption, and which has not undergone any proper safety assessment- will only make consumers more distrustful, and harsh in their judgement of retailers who dabble in GM.
Why risk your brand image and credibility, when your consumers don’t want to buy it?
Joanna Blythman is a journalist and author of What to Eat