Never a better time to eat a burger
4 Can I spend my way out of dodgy food?The agrifood industry has been predicting the end of cheap food for some time, and perhaps this is the tipping point. The rising consumption of meat worldwide has pushed up costs such as that of animal feed, as the growing middle classes in China, India and elsewhere adopt more westernised diets.
This has encouraged the growth of long supply chains, which allow processors to buy ingredients from the cheapest possible source through an intricate web of international meat traders and cold stores.
KPMG UK’s head of supply chain, Andrew Underwood, points to one study that found more than 450 critical control points between an animal’s conception and its consumption. “It means that there are opportunities at almost every step of the way, such as at the abattoir, the processing plant and at the point of packaging, where checking needs to be done, not just at the end of the production line,” he says.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland study that sparked this furore concentrated on cheap beef burgers because this is where the corners were most likely to be cut.
So if you spend more money are you guaranteed to get authentic food? You certainly have a better chance of doing so. Advocates of healthy eating such as the chef Darina Allen have long argued that it’s more economical to spend money on good local food than cheap processed food.
Allen says these keep you healthy and reduce your spending on doctors, dentists and vitamin tablets.
5 So should we change the way we eat?Some people already have. In Britain, a survey by the research agency Consumer Intelligence found almost one in four people plan to buy less processed meat because of this scandal, and 21 per cent said they had already started to buy less meat in general. This could be a fad.
A UN Environment Programme study published this week encourages people to change their habits for good. Its lead author, Prof Mark Sutton of the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, calls on people in rich countries to become “demitarians” – eating half as much meat as usual. The report says our food and energy production has caused “a web of water and air pollution that is damaging human health, causing toxic algal blooms, killing fish, threatening sensitive ecosystems and contributing to climate change”.
People are eating much more meat than their parents and grandparents, and Sutton says the horse-meat scare makes this a good time to talk about the way we eat.
6 Have we lost our perspective?Is the horse-meat crisis just about rich westerners wringing their hands about the mislabelling of convenience foods while people die of hunger elsewhere?
Hans Zomer disagrees. The director of Dóchas, the umbrella group for nongovernmental Irish development organisations, says this is a genuine issue. “I would certainly not belittle it. Everyone on this planet has a right to food, and a right to good, nutritious food.”
He says poorer people spend a greater proportion of their income on food and are more vulnerable to shocks and unexpected changes. “And the reality is, both here in Ireland and elsewhere, that the options open to poor people are severely limited.
“Those of us with means can switch to other food sources if the price or quality of our staple food has changed. But for many poor people that option is not available.”
He says the global hunger problem is not primarily about a lack of food. “There currently is enough food in the world to guarantee all of us enough calories and nutrients. Rather, it is an issue of unequal distribution and access.”
7 Is this a disaster for Ireland’s much-lauded food industry?It was shaping up to be one until Comigel entered the fray, on February 6th, with a lasagne that would turn out to contain up to 100 per cent horse meat. The Irish meat industry, and the ABP Food Group in particular, must have breathed a sigh of relief when the French food company was drawn into the scandal. Its 100 per cent horse lasagne makes the 29 per cent burger produced in ABP’s Silvercrest plant look almost benign.