So far, the hunt for the source of fake 'beef' has taken us on a dizzying trans-European tour, first to Ireland, then Poland, via France, and from there to Romania, Cyprus, Holland and France, by way of Luxembourg. Why this crazily long and complicated supply chain, when British beef is world renowned and widely available?
Blame the supermarkets. They bang on about offering best quality and supporting British farmers, yet when they put out to tender specifications for convenience products, they won't pay a decent, realistic price for them. So, to secure their business, food manufacturers come in with the lowest price then figure out how to make the sums add up, usually by reducing costs.
In this race-to-the-bottom system, it makes commercial 'sense' for food processors to bypass higher quality, UK-based suppliers, and buy for less from lower cost countries, using a series of sub-contractors. This is why, for instance, much of the water-logged frozen chicken used in supermarket ready meals is imported from Brazil and Thailand, and why North Sea prawns caught by UK trawlers are sent to China for shelling.
This globalised buying system not only encourages fraud and adulteration but also presents opportunities for it. Who can tell if they're eating beef, horse, donkey, or even dog, when it's reconstituted with water, fillers and additives and looking plausible, in a supermarket-endorsed box?
We must begin to relocalise our food chain, and that means breaking the supermarkets' vice-like grip on it, which has exactly the opposite effect. If we continue to rely on faceless people in faraway places to feed us, we cannot hope to trace the provenance of what's on our plates, or be assured of its wholesomeness. In the future, horse meat may be the least of our problems.
Joanna Blythman's books include 'Bad Food Britain – How a Nation Ruined its Appetite'