First posted on the Linkedin Irish Executives, Bloggers in Residence Blog on March 25th 2013
The recent focus on horsemeat in processed food has focused our minds on the disconnect between the food we eat and how and by whom our food is produced.
We have seen the blame game going up and down the supply chain, processors blaming the suppliers, suppliers blaming middle men, farmers making like Manuel form Faulty Towers. “ I know nothing, Mr Faulty”
The truth is that for the vast majority of city dwellers, milk comes from a carton and meat comes from a see through plastic container in the local supermarket. While I know the origin of my food, it is a long time since I had any contact with anything I eat while it was alive or still in the ground. At least in earlier years, as explained in my first post, most people had some, if minimal, contact with the food they ate before it arrived on the shop shelf.
The question we need ask is this, are we as consumers entitled to have more of an input into how our food is produced and how should we do this?
City folk, having delegated (abdicated) the production of our food to others, have been relying on the honesty of the farming community, the food processing companies, the wholesale and retail supply chain and to a large extent the fast food industry, backed up by our Government and the EU regulatory system, to provide us with safe food.
One of the biggest revelations from the recent “Horse Meat in Burgers” controversy was not the fact that we were eating horsemeat. It was the fact that the regulatory system, in an industry that Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, claimed was highly regulated, basically failed and was not fit for purpose.
So what can we do? It is neither practical nor desirable that we go back to producing our own food or buying our food directly from the farm. The option of home growing some of our food is available to those who have the time and money resources and the necessary space to grow their own food but for the vast majority of city dwellers, buying food from shops, supermarket or the odd farmers market is the only option.
There are regulations in place (although difficult to research), setting out how our food, from “farm to table”, should be processed and delivered. Introducing new regulations in a knee jerk response to the horsemeat scandal is not going to fix the problem. The perpetrators of the horsemeat scandal ignored the regulations, so why would we expect them to obey any new regulations.
The solution is in enforcement.
We don’t need Abraham Maslow to tell us that food is a fundamental need for survival, without food we die. We can also become ill, from a mild stomach upset to a serious illness, or die from eating contaminated food.
I therefore propose that the sanctions for any person or organisation that breaches the regulations, which results in injury or death, or has the potential to cause injury or death, should be treated the same as any other criminal and tried under the “Offences against the Person” statutes and not “Fraud legislation”, as seems to have been proposed by Minister Coveney.
Food is big business and some of the biggest businesses in Ireland have been involved in the “horsemeat scandal”. The question is, what other regulations have these organisations breached.
There are individuals in Ireland who have made personal fortunes quoted in the hundreds of Millions of Euros from the “farm to table” industry. As readers of this blog know well, the attitude of the person at the top generally permeates through an organisation so the behaviour of the companies involved in the scandal probably reflect the attitude of owners and senior directors of the major players in the Irish food industry. Do we think a small fine or a “tut tut, You are very bold boys” from Minister Coveney” is going to change their attitude or behaviour.
Can anyone say that the ingredients list, in the picture at the start of this article, is not designed to hide any old rubbish in burgers that are being produced for human consumption. It definitely shows the attitude of the people who produce them and what they think of the people they expect to eat them.
The picture was extracted from an article in the Daily Mail. It can be found by Googling, “Sneaking horse meat into your supermarket burger”
There is no possibility that the “Farm to table” industry is going to regulate itself with their priority being the wellbeing of consumers so, can we look to the Government and the EU for enforcement?
There is a European Food Safety Authority, which was set up in 2002. This was after a “European Food Authority” was proposed in 2000 by the then EU Health and Consumer Commissioner, Irishman David Byrne. The following is an extract from the press release by EFA in 2000
“The European Commission today adopted a proposal for a Regulation of the Parliament and Council, to be adopted by co-decision, laying down fundamental principles and requirements of food law and establishing a European Food Authority (EFA). The proposal presented by Health and Consumer Commissioner David Byrne together with the Enterprise Commissioner Erkki Liikanen is the centrepiece of the Commission’s strategy for a proactive food policy covering the entire food chain, from the farm to the fork. Its primary objective is to provide the basis for the assurance of a high level of protection of human life”
Full details of the press release here: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/health_consumer/library/press/press82_en.html
The current European Food safety Authority website does not provide any insight as to how the EU currently implements the aspirations set out in press release of 2000
I have found great difficulty in finding any information regarding the enforcement of food safety from “farm to fork” and that which I have been able to access does not fill this City Boy with confidence regarding the food I am presented with by those who now control the food chain.
It would appear that enforcement by the Irish Food safety Authority is focused on one specific sector of the food chain, retailing of prepared food, where “closure orders” are served on a regular basis. There are no closure orders on large food processors!!
There was one successful prosecution of a Small Meat Manufacturing Plant. The company was fined €5000 for each offence and awarded solicitors costs of €679, a total of €10,679. I’m certain ABP are quaking in their boots.
Our food is our wellbeing and our life, we need to demand that those who provide our food take our wellbeing and our lives seriously
We also need to demand that those who are responsible for enforcing the regulations take our wellbeing and lives seriously.
From what I have been able to find out in researching this blog, our wellbeing and lives are a secondary consideration to the business of producing food.
The people who destroyed our banking system by their irresponsible behaviour walked away without sanction but at least their behaviour was not life threatening, the same type of attitude and behaviour in our food supply chain could be. Do we have to wait until people start dying before we act?