Having discovered horse meat in its burgers, Tesco barely had time to yank all of its patties out of cold storage before another product made the headlines. It turns out that the supermarket giant’s ‘Everyday Value’ spaghetti bolognaise meal comes at an extra cost: you have to eat horse.
The horse meat furore has been raging unabated for a fortnight now, with Tesco, Lidl, Aldi, Iceland and Dunnes Stores all pulling products from the shelves due to contamination. Several suppliers have now been implicated, from Ireland to France.
This isn’t the odd horse hair or errant lump of flesh tuning up in these products, either. Tests on the Tesco bolognaise show over 60% horse meat. While Findus lasagnes are up to 100% nag.
The scale of the contamination has prompted Environment Secretary Owen Paterson to suggest that, at the very least, many of these suppliers must have been in cahoots, or at least all ‘in’ on the practice. ‘Criminal activity’ is rife, he told the House of Commons yesterday.
After all, these horses aren’t being sourced from local farms; suppliers are not recycling the racers that fall and break their necks at Aintree. These creatures are being sourced from as far afield as Romania, where new laws on riding horses on public highways have seen a huge spike in the number of these animals being put down.
Over in Ireland, the black market trade in horse flesh is also big business. According to shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh, there are currently some 70,000 horses unaccounted for in Northern Ireland, with unwanted animals given false paperwork before being sold for 10 euros (£8) and then resold to dealers for meat for as much as 500 euro (£423).
So, which suppliers have been caught red-handed? French firm Comigel has just been dropped by Tesco – it supplied the horsey bolognaise. Spanghero, also based in France, has also been implicated. As have Irish meat production facilities Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods – and the Dalepak Hambleton plant in north Yorkshire.
Food retailers are being told to test all of their products by Friday to ascertain the extent of the taint.
Tim Smith, Tesco's beleaguered group technical director, has been forced to make his second apology in as many weeks for unwittingly feeding consumers Black Beauty. All the products should have only contained Irish beef, he insisted, and Tesco is very sorry for letting customers down. ‘Of the positive results, most are at a trace level of less than 1% but three showed significant levels of horse DNA, exceeding 60%, he added.
Government is currently trying to decide the best way to react to horsemeatgate: a ban on imported meat has been suggested, as has a ‘made in the UK’ label to assure consumers that their product has not been sourced from any of the implicated suppliers. Some of the suppliers may find themselves at the centre of a fraud investigation and heavy fines may be levied.
While none of the products have been found to contain any dangerous bacteria or chemicals, consumers’ distrust of supermarket ‘beef’ products will tell a long time to wane.
There is one winner in this whole debacle, however. Local butchers have reported a marked spike in trade as consumers eschew the supermarket meat counters. Brindon Addy, chairman of the Q Guild, which represents 130 butchers across England, Scotland and Wales, says: ‘There has definitely been a spike in sales for the high street butcher in recent weeks, some are saying by as much as 20 and 30%. It is obviously great news for those butchers who have found it difficult to compete with the big supermarkets in the past. People slip into the convenience of supermarket shopping, but whenever there is a scare - be it horse meat or BSE - they always come back.’
Want to find out more about the UK’s history of meat scandals, check out this blog by MT editor Matthew Gwyther, ‘Where there’s meat, there’s aggro’.