WHEN concerns about food – that it may not be what it says on the label or could be contaminated – are raised, people expect that swift action should be taken to fix the problem within a matter of days. But that doesn’t seem to be happening in the latest food scare.
About 14 January, the British public learned that some of the cheaper lines of burgers and other processed meat products stocked by some of the big supermarket chains contained horsemeat. It was said not to be a health risk, but shelves were cleared by the affected retailers pretty smartly.
Now, almost a full month later, comes news that another big brand food manufacturer – Findus – has found out that some its beef lasagne should be more accurately described as horse lasagne. This time, there might be health risks, caused by the fact that racehorses are regularly injected with phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory drug. This can have side-effects of causing blood disorders, which is why it is banned from human use.
This time it appears that one particular French manufacturer, who was not the supplier involved in the first burger scare, is the source. The head of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), Catherine Brown, has speculated that criminal or fraudulent activity, not necessarily by the company but further down its supply chain, may be the cause.
But why has it taken a month for this contamination to be detected? The tests which have produced these latest alarming results are said to have been conducted by Findus. Of course it is right that food manufacturers should be constantly testing their own products to make sure that they are what they claim to be and that they are free from contamination.
Why, however, has the FSA not been conducting its own tests? Much of industry is subject to external testing to make sure it is complying with rules and regulations on the not unreasonable suspicion that rogue companies might well be tempted to cover up any failures.
The time that it has taken Findus, even though it may be an exemplary company, to come up with these results, when a reasonable person would think that all food manufacturers would have subjected all their meat products to immediate testing when news of horsemeat in the food chain first broke, suggests that the industry testing regime is not up to the mark.
The public, quite rightly, will demand evidence that the FSA and food manufacturers are rigorously enforcing and complying with an inspection regime that will stop these disgraceful incidents occurring. The UK and Scottish governments need to act to make sure that procedures are up to the mark.
The fact is that consumers now have little faith in what they are being told they are eating. The government must move to restore confidence.
Honouring a great Scot
So famous are the words claimed to have been spoken by Henry Morton Stanley on meeting David Livingstone in 1871 on the shore of Lake Tanganyika six years after contact was lost with the Scots explorer and missionary, that they do not need repeating here.
Those words, which may have been a later invention by Stanley for the benefit of his employer, the New York Herald, are also part of the reason why Livingstone is among the world’s most famous explorers. So it seems extraordinary that the buildings and the location in Blantyre,
Lanarkshire, where Livingstone was born in 1813 and spent his early childhood are now described as “largely forgotten” and in danger of closure, while a mere 25,000 visitors a year trickle through them.
Fortunately, the National Trust for Scotland is coming to their rescue. It has come to a deal with the struggling charity that owns the site and plans to refurbish the building on the site of the one-time cotton mill (where Livingstone worked as a ten-year-old) are being laid.
In some ways, this saga of neglect is appropriate as Livingstone’s initial exploratory successes – being the first westerner to see what he named the Victoria Falls – were followed by reputational decline as he failed to discover the source of the Nile. Then came rehabilitation through Stanley, who was in awe of Livingstone’s ability to persevere despite dreadful illness.
But it is also sad that this Scot is more renowned abroad than at home. This will surely be now rectified with better housing for the explorer’s story and possessions in a setting which will better reflect his impact on the world.