In horsemeat scandal, cautious consumers can demand answers

It turns out that burgers, pies, bolognaise sauce and other meat products supposedly made from beef are actually horsemeat.The latest food scandal to erupt in the UK is beginning to unleash across Europe. In fact, what has happened in the UK might turn out to be a global problem.

Unlike so many recent horrific exposés that highlight the inherent problems in modern industrial farming – this latest scandal instead highlights the role, or apparent lack of it, of food processers, supermarkets and other retailers in safeguarding standards in the food chain.

It turns out that burgers, pies, bolognaise sauce and other meat products supposedly made from beef may actually be made from horsemeat.

The reaction of the media and the public to the discovery of cruelty on farms is generally universal condemnation but on this issue, of the miss-selling of horsemeat, reactions have been surprisingly mixed.

Putting on one side the trading standards issues of falsely advertising goods, opinions have divided into three camps.

  • Some argue there is little difference when it comes to animal welfare – if you are happy to eat a cow why not a horse?
  • Others see a great distinction as horses are largely viewed in the UK as friends and companions rather than food animals.
  • There is a final group, many of whom are already vegetarians, who see this latest scandal as yet more evidence that the industry and authorities responsible for our food cannot be trusted and are more concerned about financial gain than honest advertising and healthy and humanely produced food.

There is an obvious question here though, if the food industry is not truthful about what they are supplying can they be trusted on how the animals are treated? 

All food animals under human care deserve to be treated well at all times and farm animals are no less deserving of a life worth living than dogs or cats.

Humane farming methods should be the norm and not, as so often seems to be the case, the exception to the rule.

Consumers expect humane treatment of farm animals and equally consumers have a right to know what they are eating.

On the other side, producers have a responsibility to ensure that animals are treated well and retailers to advertise their products honestly.

This latest revelation shows that the food industry in Europe cannot be relied upon to honor its commitments.

Horses are not considered food animals in the UK and horsemeat is not consumed traditionally in this country. Consumers here have therefore have unwittingly supported an industry they would oppose.

There are lessons that apply in other areas too – “let the buyer beware”.

This principle holds true for tourists, and people buying wildlife products through the internet and around the world.

When buying animal products be sure you know where they came from – that way you will not, unintentionally, be supporting cruel or illegal practices that might cause animal suffering, or in the case of wildlife products, be from rare or endangered species.

The answer is a simple one.

Consumers have immense purchasing power and by asking questions they will encourage greater transparency and accountability in the sales chain, perhaps saving animals from suffering and at the very least not unwittingly supporting questionable, and possibly illegal, practices.

--CM

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Experts

Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Jan Hannah
Northern Dogs Project Manager
Nancy Barr, Program Director, Animal Action Education
Program Director, Animal Action Education