Friday, 15 February 2013

Horsemeat scandal

Here is a radical idea: imagine the towns of North Ayrshire were surrounded by fields, in which farmers reared cows. Imagine those farms produced beef and dairy produce.

Then imagine the towns of North Ayrshire had shops, in which local people could buy beef and lamb and pork and milk and cheese and fresh vegetables.

Imagine North Ayrshire farms employed local people. Imagine they were well paid and took a pride in their work. Imagine people were employed to inspect cattle on North Ayrshire farms, and products in local shops. Imagine the beef in pies, burgers, lasagnes and other products was actually beef – from cows reared locally. Imagine the state regulated farm-production, cattle transportation, meat processing and supply to the retail sector.

Sorry, I got carried away. I forgot we live in a capitalist country, within a global capitalist economy, where the pursuit of ever-greater profit is all that matters, even in relation to food, one of humanities basic needs.

Amongst the lurid headlines of the past week – including that some frozen ‘beef’ lasagnes sold in UK supermarkets contained up to 100 percent horsemeat – virtually no-one has dared to mention the actual cause of what has rapidly turned into a Europe-wide crisis. If you have read UK-based newspapers you will know that horsemeat has been substituted for beef: you will also have read that such heinous activity is down to ‘Johnny-foreigner’ types in Eastern European countries like Poland and Bulgaria.

However, staff at foreign abattoirs did not just take it upon themselves to slaughter horses and label the meat as beef. Such action was taken because the cost of beef has risen markedly in the past year, along with other staple food products, such as grain. I am reliably informed that horsemeat can be bought at 25 percent the cost of beef – resulting in a nice profit for corrupt food-processors: and in our capitalist world, profit is all that matters.

That is how horsemeat was labelled as beef and got into the human foodchain. But how did it get into burgers and lasagnes on the shelves of UK supermarkets?

The major supermarket-chains in Britain are very successful operations, making billions-of-pounds in profit every year. They do this, in part, by squeezing-down the amount they are prepared to pay suppliers for produce. In the pursuit of ever-greater profits, the supplier who charges the least will get the contract. That is why locally-produced beef is very unlikely to find its way into ‘beef’ products on the shelves of local Tescos or Asdas.

Instead, in the case of ‘beef’ lasagnes produced for frozen-food firm Findus (the ones found to contain up to 100 percent horsemeat) the supply-chain was as follows: the meat come from two Romanian abattoirs; it was sold to a trader in the Netherlands; then sold again to another trader in Cyprus; that company sold it to a French firm called Poujol ; they then supplied it to a meat-processing plant in Luxembourg run by a company named Comigel; and it was then delivered to Findus, which is headquartered in Sweden.

At no stage of its long journey was the meat inspected or tested. In fact, the whole crisis in which we now find ourselves was sparked by food inspectors in Ireland who first found traces of horse DNA in ‘beef’ burgers being sold by Tesco. Those Irish inspectors were acting on a tip-off, without which the chances are we would all still be munching our way through horses that should be enjoying a happy retirement in a pleasant field somewhere.

The cause of the ‘horsemeat crisis’ is the capitalist economic system and its core principle of making as much money as possible. Capitalism only works for a very small group of people, for ease of reference let’s call them the ‘bosses’. Those ‘bosses’ make an awful lot of money, and they can only do that by exploiting the rest of us – they pay us less than the value of our labour, they sell us products for more than their actual worth, and they sell us ‘beef’ that is actually horsemeat.

It is no coincidence that the products containing horsemeat are mainly supermarket-brand ‘value’ or ‘savers’ meals. The capitalist bosses have forced-down supplier costs to maximise their own profits, which means the cheapest, least nutritious contents go into the supposedly ‘good deal’ meals sold in such large quantities in areas of poverty and deprivation, like North Ayrshire.

So let’s imagine an alternative economic system, let’s imagine a socialist system, where local farms produce to meet the needs of local populations. Imagine good-quality food products, with production and cost regulated and monitored by staff employed by the state. Imagine local shops supplying nutritious food to local people, so that no-one goes hungry and children aren’t fed processed pap containing whatever the profit-driven capitalists can get away with.

John Lennon put it best: imagine “no need for greed or hunger...I wonder if you can”.

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one.

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