Big Issue: Charles Mann, chairman of NFU Gloucestershire, on the horsemeat debacle
WHAT a nonsense this debacle over horsemeat has made of all our – that is the British – farmers', processors' and local retailers', attempts to establish trust and understanding with the consumer for good food, fully traceable and produced to the highest welfare standards.
Traceability is now out of the window as far as international trade is concerned. How can the consumer have any faith in a label stuck on a product of no known origin?
What can be done to restore confidence? While the politicians and Food Standards Agency sort out the international mess, we at home can speak with our feet.
Now is the moment to explore the opportunities provided by the local butchers' shops. Have no fear, if you have not ventured into one recently, you will find a welcome and also a wealth of help as to how best to provide good meat on a budget; you do not have to buy the best joints to enjoy the succulent taste of well-hung beef while being safe in the knowledge that the butcher can guarantee he knows the farmer and abattoir that have supplied him.
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Your local butcher has been fighting the might of the great cathedrals to cheap food, the out-of-town super-convenient supermarkets, for years.
The problems generated by our laziness have now come home to roost. Yes, we can blame the supermarkets for chasing ever-cheaper sources of supply, resulting in Romania and Poland supplying a French processor based in Luxembourg with horsemeat to be sold in Britain as beef; but ultimately, we all have to shoulder a certain degree of blame because of our wish for cheap, convenient, pre-prepared 'food'. Our countryside, environment and welfare standards are the jewels of the farming industry in this country, it is why we can proudly and genuinely claim that British produced food is amongst the best in the world. But this is only possible because of the care and dedication of your farmers and your butchers.
Until all supermarkets support British farmers with transparency and honesty, no one can be sure of the veracity of the food they buy within those hallowed portals.
Why are we still importing meat from the countries where we can be unsure as to its origin? Cars which cannot meet the exacting level for carbon emissions are simply not imported. If meat does not comply with the high welfare and traceability levels of British meat the same should apply.
European countries have been mighty quick in the past to ban the export of British beef – is it not now our turn to ban all these supplies from countries with less than perfect standards?
If you buy British beef from local butchers or at the farm gate you can be sure of its health and origin, and that it is what it says it is.