Why did the chicken cross the continent? So it could go cheap, cheap, cheap
Waiter, waiter – there’s a pun in my burger. And I’m failing to see the funny side.
It seems to me that behind much of the nervous tittering brought on by last week’s revelation that Tesco’s Value Range beefburgers contained up to 29 per cent horsemeat, there was more than a hint of snobbery. In some quarters, including on social media, the unspoken consensus seemed to be that anyone mad enough to buy cheap burger products got what they deserved.
But if people think that – just because they can afford to buy top-notch burgers – they are guaranteed food of sound origin, think again. Even if you avoid supermarkets and buy all your meat from craft butchers, even if you never eat processed foods and read your kids Jamie Oliver books at bedtime, how smug can you really afford to be about the provenance of the food you eat?
In a survey by Safefood carried out nearly five years ago, Irish consumers listed the country of origin of their food as one of their top-five concerns when shopping. And yet, until 2011, if you bought an “Irish” labelled chicken fillet marinaded in spices and ready to be popped in the oven, it might just as easily have taken its first breath in Thailand as in Tipperary.
For more than 15 years, supermarkets and butchers had been – perfectly legally – buying cheap meat products (other than beef) from countries such as Thailand and Brazil, sprinkling them with spice or breadcrumbs, and relabelling them as “Irish”.
Following years of protest from consumer organisations, the EU got its act together in 2011 and issued a directive stating that the country of origin must be included on all poultry, pig, goat and sheep products.
When this measure is implemented into law next year, it will apply at butchers’ counters and shops, as well as in supermarkets.
But at the moment, it remains a guessing game. Earlier this week, I found myself in my local craft butcher shop, on the hunt for something for dinner. (By
“something”, I invariably mean chicken; according to Safefood, it is “the Irish consumer’s protein of choice”.)
There was no shortage of it on display in this clean, attractive little shop: there were chicken legs, chicken thighs, chicken kievs, stuffed chickens, rolled chickens, whole chickens and chicken-breast fillets. The fillets were lean and plump and on offer at a bargain four for €5.
Nearby was a tray of identical looking fillets – except they cost €6.50 for four. The difference was that the €6.50 fillets were branded Irish and the other, unlabelled ones were Dutch, the butcher explained. But he couldn’t enlighten me on why they were cheaper than home-produced ones, despite having been shipped here from Holland, which is an import hub for meat products from outside the EU.