Horsemeat: Why did no one want to disclose full scale of scandal?

 

Since the start of the crisis last month, manufacturers, retailers and food officials have given every impression of not wanting to disclose the full unvarnished truth to the public about the contamination of the meat supply system.

Statements have been released late in the day, conveying inadequate and partial information, all expressed in the bland language of officialdom.

Perhaps mindful of creating an economically-damaging food scare, food safety officials and ministers have repeatedly stressed that the unlabelled horse is safe to eat – but, as the leading food scientist Duncan Campbell pointed out to The Independent last month: how can they be certain?

They didn’t know about the horsemeat for months and they still don’t know where it has come from.

From the very start, the public has been receiving news of the contamination well after the fact.

First, there was the delay over the release of the adulteration of budget burgers sold by supermarkets in Ireland and Britain.

Routine tests of burgers were first carried out by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) in mid-November.

After suspicious results they were sent for re-testing in Germany, but only on 15 January – several days after the FSAI and the Irish government had been informed of the results – were they communicated to the public. The UK Food Standards Agency has been even worse in admitting the emerging scale of this scandal to the British public.

The FSA – set up in the wake of the BSE crisis – kept secret test results showing the banned drug ‘bute’ in meat from horses slaughtered in the UK last year until after a whistleblower had leaked them to a politician.

This week it waited a whole day before telling the public, in a brief press release slapped on its website but not sentout to journalists, that frozen beef in ready meals contained staggering levels of undeclared horse meat.

Even then it stated there was “more than 60 per cent” when the actual amount found, as it admitted later, ranged between 60 and 100 per cent.

But it has not been alone. Tesco and Aldi quietly swept their own-brand Comigel products from the shelves earlier this week rather than immediately informing the public – some of whom may have pulled those meals out of their home freezers and eaten them.

Typically statements have been released late at night. Aldi’s confirmation that ‘beef’ in its lasagnes and spaghetti Bolognese was in some cases wholly horse was put out at 6.30pm last night.

And politicians have been noticeably reluctant to engage with the public. The Environment Secretary Owen Paterson made a brief appearance on a rolling news channel last night, having been mysteriously absent from the airwaves during one of the biggest crises in British food for years.

By the day grows the suspicion that there has been a profound breach of the traceability systems constructed after BSE, and that the government, FSA officials and the food industry are loathe to communicate the scale of that failure to consumers.

‘Bute’ aside, the unlabelled horse may indeed be safe to eat. But that’s not to say that people wanted to eat it, nor, more importantly, that anyone in the food supply system was aware of the existence of what seems to have been a massive undetected fraud.

It was just the presence of an unknown substance –  prions that caused BSE (and the ensuing complacency and cover-up) – that led to a collapse in confidence in British farming.

Judging by the events and attitudes of the last few weeks, the lessons have not been learnt.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there