Miles Kington: There's a familiar pattern to all these food scares

'It happened with eggs and salmonella. It happened with beef. I seem to remember it happening with farmed salmon...'
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The Independent Online

"This turkey business..." said the man with the dog, but then he paused to lower the level of beer in his pint by half an inch, which gave the pub's resident Welshman a chance to nip in.

"Talking of which," he said, "I heard some expert on the radio say that they were expecting avian flu to break out, if anywhere, on a small, grubby farm with a dozen chickens scratching around in the dirt, where they could pick up the disease from wild birds. Instead, they were surprised to find it's in one of Bernard Matthews' hygienic bird palaces. Surprised! When you've got hundreds of thousands of birds packed into one airplane hangar, like a hundred supermodels in one small changing room, you'd be surprised if the virus didn't spread as fast as a rumour in Whitehall."

"This turkey business..." said the man with the dog again, but it didn't do him much good.

"I'll tell you about this turkey business," said the lady with the black and white hairdo and the pint of Guinness. "I wouldn't buy turkey if you paid me."

"Because of avian flu?" said the Welshman.

"No. Because it's a waste of money. Every time I see one of these huge frozen turkeys in the supermarket, with thighs like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a taste like stale cardboard, I wonder why anyone bothers to buy it. You can get a pheasant at the farmer's market or the butcher's for £3. Wrap it in bacon, put it in the oven, lovely meal for two, you know it's fresh, you know it's local."

"Thank you, Jamie Oliver," said the man with the dog. "Anyway, this turkey business..."

"I'll tell you what's going to happen," said the Welshman. "People are going to stop buying turkey. It happens every time we have a food scare. Stage one, someone dies, or there's an outbreak in an old folk's home. Stage two, someone says we shouldn't panic and it's all quite safe to eat. Stage three, everyone stops eating it. Stage four, the industry goes bankrupt. Stage five, everyone starts eating it again. It happened with eggs and salmonella. It happened with beef. I seem to remember it happening with farmed salmon..."

"Do you remember that beef-on-the-bone business?" said the Major. "What a load of nonsense that was. The Government pretending it knew what it was doing. Man called Cunningham. Jack Cunningham."

"Dr Jack Cunningham," said the Welshman.

"Rt Hon Dr Jack Cunningham," said the black-and-white lady.

"My God, doesn't New Labour like its titles? "said the Major. "Even if they aren't Sir, they love to be Doctor. Dr Cunningham. Dr John Reid. What gives them the right to be a doctor?"

"Cunningham became a lord, you know," said the Welshman. "Right Hon Lord Cunningham of Felling. So he did drop the Doctor eventually."

"'Right on' Lord?" said the Major. "Is that a trendy kind of Lord?"

"No," said the Welshman. "A Right Hon Lord is the same as an ordinary Lord, but you don't have to pay Downing Street for it."

"This turkey business..." said the man with the dog, and, out of sheer habit, stopped there. No one said anything.

"Go on," said the Welshman.

"Well," said the man with the dog, "this turkey business can get you a title as well. I read the other day that Bernard Matthews had been made Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, for his work for the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme. So I suppose that, technically, he is Commander Matthews."

"I wonder what his contribution to the Duke's Award was," said the Welshman. "Do you suppose he invented a new test for them, based on turkey farming? Involving making the candidates stand in a small space for days and weeks on end, injecting them with antibiotics, giving them no exercise and making them so fat their legs couldn't support them?"

"Bit like English schoolchildren," said the man with the dog. "No wonder we can't get a proper cricket team."

And after that it was talk about cricket for a half hour, which I will spare you