Stephen Jardine: Suggestion worth chewing over

JUST when you thought the horsemeat scandal couldn’t get any worse, the crisis takes another twist.

The news that tests on Findus beef lasagne uncovered samples containing 100 per cent horse is the most shocking development yet in a story that grows more worrying by the day.

Until now, the suggestion was that the entire episode could be traced back to one rogue supplier in Poland. However, the Findus products came from France, suggesting the scandal is much more widespread than previously thought.

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As a precaution, Tesco has withdrawn its Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognaise because it originated from the same French factory. With the company’s website listing a wide range of products, further withdrawals by major retailers are likely.

The root of the problem is obvious. Suppliers have cut corners and introduced filler protein to the manufacturing process to satisfy the supermarkets’ determination to push down the price of meat.

The big question is, just how much did the supermarkets know about a process that now spans a continent? Are they victims in this like the rest of us, or did they turn a blind eye to practices they didn’t want to know about but needed in order to meet pricing structures?

From salmonella in eggs to BSE, we’ve had many food scares but from the point of view of public confidence, this could be the worst yet.

Since the horsemeat wasn’t destined for the food chain, it has not been subject to the strict safety regulations applied to meat for human consumption. Findus have now been ordered to test for traces of the veterinary drug phenylbutazone, which has been linked to cases of cancer in humans.

All this just to sell cheap meat.

Burger King reacted to being drawn into the affair by announcing they would now source all their supplies from Germany and Italy. That’s not what Scottish consumers want.

Here we have a breathtaking natural larder. Farmer, butchers, bakers and fishmongers offer all the reassurance consumers need at the moment. Surely that is a price worth paying.

Above that, the government needs to act. Environment Secretary Owen Paterson says horsemeat being sneaked into the food chain is “completely unacceptable” but he hasn’t said what he plans to do about it.

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The government must launch a public enquiry into how the contamination happened and why.

Light touch regulation pervades the industry, but that may have to change to restore public confidence.

As consumers, we have the power to force change through the choices we make. As you shop this weekend, that’s real food for thought.