Moviegoers heading to the cinema to see Les Misérables this weekend might find the film unexpectedly topical. “Food beyond compare/ Food beyond belief/ Mix it in a mincer/ And pretend it’s beef/ Kidney of a horse/ Liver of a cat/ Filling up the sausages/ With this and that.”
Plus ça change, as Victor Hugo might have said. Whether it’s sausages, doner kebabs, ready meals or, in this case, burgers, one never likes to ask too many questions about what one is eating, particularly at the value end of the protein chain.
But joking aside (and I defy you to go to a barbecue this summer without horse meat being referenced), questions will be asked now. A lot of them. Starting with Tim Smith, the former CEO of the FSA, whose huge misfortune and embarrassment it was to be appointed Tesco’s new technical director just as the biggest food scandal on these shores in a decade breaks. Welcome to Tesco, Tim.
“It’s the biggest food scandal on these shores in a decade. Questions will be asked. A lot of them”
Adam Leyland, Editor
Tesco CEO Philip Clarke will be asking a lot of questions, too. With the first green shoots of a recovery still tender, this is potentially very damaging to Tesco’s reputation (though its share price had barely budged, from its recent 52-week high, as The Grocer was going to press).
Anglo Beef Processors will be asking a lot of questions of its suppliers, and doubtless its lawyers. With Vion’s exit from the UK last November a reminder of the stresses the protein industry is under, ABP must have hoped for a sympathetic ear in its negotiations. Now, following these lapses in food security and traceability, the quality of mercy will be strained.
But this story is not just about the main dramatis personae. In the eye of a five-year economic slump (and counting), the fear is always that lives will be lost, as someone, somewhere in the supply chain, is negligent, or, worse still, cheats. Mercifully, in this case, no one has been hurt. And the scandal could even be good news for British farmers, for fresh meat counters, for halal butchers, and quite possibly vegetable sales. But as millions of burgers are removed from supermarket shelves as a safety precaution, no one will escape suspicion. No one.