No doubt you are outraged about the horse meat scandal. You have every right to be – criminality, profiteering, potential fraud, all have led to many people eating an animal they would probably prefer to see in the 3.20 at Kempton and possibly also ingesting dangerous veterinary drugs.
However, I’m going to come at this from another angle and it’s this: it’s your own bloody fault. There you go.
I know, I know; you’re not happy. It’s not your fault is it? It’s the government, the supermarkets, criminals and Goodness knows who else.
But it’s not just them, you see. It’s you.
After a week of this story my patience has finally snapped, and it’s time someone told you a few home truths.
Many of us have been banging on for years about this stuff, trying to make you care about the need for better food labeling, about fairness for farmers, about the need to support local farms to avoid all our food coming from giant, uncaring corporate agri-businesses which churn out cheap product to feed the insatiable appetite of supermarket price-cutting.
We’ve been highlighting the unfairness of UK farmers being forced to meet 73 different regulations to sell to supermarkets which don’t apply to foreign suppliers, and talking about our children growing up with no understanding of food production and, more than all of this, about the way supermarkets have driven down and down and down the cost of meat to the point where people think it’s normal to buy 3lbs of beef (in burgers) for 90p.
And you wouldn’t listen. It was like shouting into a gale.
Through the years of New Labour, when farming and the countryside were demonised, you wouldn’t listen. You cheerfully chose to believe that all farmers were Rolls Royce driving aristocrats, as painted by John Prescott. You had no sympathy. You wanted a chicken for £2 and your Sunday roast for a fiver. Well, you got them didn’t you? And hundreds of farmers went to the wall. And you still didn’t care because Turkey slices were ten for 60p.
And now you’re furious, because it turns out that when you pay peanuts for something it’s actually not very good. Who knew eh?
And before you start, don’t even think about the “it’s all right for the rich who can go to local butcher’s shops but what about the poor?” line. The number of people who can’t afford adequate amounts of food is tiny – tragic and wrong, yes, but tiny. Supermarkets don’t make their billions from them hunting in the “reduced” basket, they make their money from millions of everyday folk filling a weekly trolley. You, in other words.
Until the mid 1990s, Britain was also full of good local abattoirs. They were run by people who knew the local farmers who used them, and the local butchers which sold the meat. They were closed in their hundreds by new health and safety regulations which made it impossible for small abattoirs to compete with giant companies doing the job more cheaply.
We tried to tell you, you didn’t care.
And of course, unlike the previous generation you were “too busy” to actually cook. You were so busy that the idea of making a meal, then making two more out of the left-overs, was like something from Cider With Rosie to you. You bought a meal every night. And so it had to be cheap.
We tried to tell you. You just pointed out that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall went to Eton and sneered at us.
Cheap rearing abroad. You didn’t care. Cheap slaughtering by machine. You didn’t care. Cheap meat full of crap and off-cuts. You didn’t care. Frozen blocks of meat off-cuts from the abattoir floor being trucked in from Poland to ensure your pack of mince was cheap enough. You didn’t care. In fact you didn’t know, but that’s because you didn’t care.
But we cared. We kept trying to tell you. We launched campaigns, we wrote letters, we raised funds for adverts. Nobody knows what they’re eating anymore, we said. Nobody recognises how hard it is for farmers here to produce quality meat at a price they can sell because of the supermarkets.
And you didn’t care.
Well, now you know you’ve been munching on Dobbin and his various nasty drugs, possibly for years. And now you care.
And yes, you’ve been misled, cheated, lied to. But you must also take some of the responsibility. You didn’t tell supermarkets you wanted quality, you just watched the ads which said “175 products cheaper at Asda this week than Tesco” and went to Asda. You made the market they sold in to, you set their priorities. They gave you what you wanted.
So what will you do now? Now that you care.
How about this…
Rather than just moaning at MPs why not actually think about what you eat, what you buy, where it comes from? Why not visit a farm on an open day? Take the kids, show them where their food comes from. If it’s a good farm, why not try to use your consumer power accordingly to make more farms that way? To make them viable. Why not have a think about how you could make meat go further without spending more, through cooking, and thus be able to buy good, British, assured quality meat?
If you do that, I’ll stop blaming you, and some good may come of all of this.
The culprits responsible for all this will be found, and no doubt tried and hopefully convicted. With luck new rules will be introduced to make a repeat harder. But the market will find a way – it always does. So long as there is a demand for vast quantities of ultra-cheap meat, people will find a way to supply it. So long as people remain uninterested in where their food comes from and how it’s made, someone will cut corners.
It’s a ravenous beast, the market. Like its customers, as it turns out.
So now that you care I’ll tell you that we’ve been highlighting the plight of dairy farmers this year; explaining how supermarkets are paying such a pittance that they can’t stay in business and milk is increasingly coming in from abroad, where standards are lower. Pleasingly people noticed. Some people. If you weren’t one, perhaps, given events, you might like to now?
And when you’ve done that, take a look at the video in the link below, which details the Countryside Alliance’s hard-fought campaign on country-of-origin food labeling. Whilst you were suggesting the CA was only interested in fox hunting, it was doing this, for you, and now you know why.