Trolley life

The other day a colleague asked me if I wanted anything from the supermarket and I, greedy journalist that I am, said: Yes, please, a story. He came back with lunch for himself and a large plastic container of Tesco "Oxtail and Red Wine" soup for me. "What's this?" I said. "BSE for lunch? You shouldn't have ..." I skipped the soup but took the story.

After all, oxtail is beef on the bone which was banned in the latest government decree over BSE. Perhaps this was like the beef-flavoured crisps that turned out to have no beef at all in them? But I checked the ingredients and there, for all to see, was the word "oxtail".

I called Tesco and the spokesman's voice took on a patient tone. This most certainly was not a story because this soup was made with foreign oxtail, not British oxtail. "It is the same for everyone. The stock industry probably saw this coming three years ago and made the switch. If they didn't, businesses like Oxo would really be in it," he said. I called Oxo. Sure enough its beef bone stock (as the packet puts it) is also from foreign cows and (unlike Tesco) he even knew which ones. "Sweden is a BSE-free country," the spokesman said. I thought about this. Can we really put our faith in the country that gave us Abba and Ikea flat-packed furniture? Can we trust the Swedish beef industry which, I think, must at least be battling the bovine form of seasonal affective disorder?

Perhaps the country of origin should be included on the label. That way, anyone who has almost died while assembling an Ikea flat-pack chair can choose whether they want to take a chance with gravy. I don't see why this cannot happen, but then again, I don't see why it appears to be so difficult to tell us exactly what is in the food we are buying. Last week the Government was braying on about how the new Food Standards Agency would have the power to set new standards for labels and I couldn't help but wonder why the Government just couldn't do this now.

I mention the label idea about oxtail to the man at Tesco and he is not impressed. Instead he is eager to tell me all about soya.

"Soya is in 60 per cent of all foods," he says. Some of it has been genetically modified and some hasn't, and now Tesco is trying to find out which is which so they can put it on millions of labels. "It's a huge task," he says. I immediately realise that I need to get my priorities right and to start worrying more about genetically-modified soya and less about foreign oxtail. And then I look again at my soup packet and see that it contains soya too. Lunch has never seemed so dangerous.

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