The scandal of horse meat in beef burgers, lasagnes and other “beef” products has grown and grown. And it may not be a simple labelling error. We could be looking at criminal adulteration of food on an industrial scale. If checks cannot identify what is going into our food, we cannot be confident that there is no risk to public health from the banned horse medicine “bute”. Ministers have warned of more bad news to come. But while the government is right to be outraged, it should have ordered rigorous testing and a police investigation weeks ago. The public must have confidence that the food it buys is properly labelled, legal and safe to eat – whether bought from a supermarket or a school canteen. If our food safety system cannot tell us if our food is fit for consumption, then it is not fit for purpose.
Mary Creagh is Labour MP for Wakefield and shadow secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs.
Consumers being misled about what’s contained within food products is nothing particularly new. Think of Snoek, a fish invented by the wartime food minister Lord Woolton, which was probably eel. Or his Woolton Pie, a “meat” pie containing rolled oats. Horse burgers labelled as beef are different from strategies designed to cope with wartime scarcity, but misinformation about food is as rife today as ever. Remember when bacon was linked to bladder cancer, or canned fish associated with premature birth? These were both scares that disappeared as quickly as they made headlines. And while environment secretary Owen Paterson has called for legal action against meat suppliers for fraud, and Labour has said that the criminal gangs behind this saga should be dealt with quickly, there is no evidence that any member of the public has faced any risk to their health.
Jason Smith works at the Institute of Ideas.