Monday, 11 February 2013

CONCERNS MOUNT


One thing that has struck me most about the horsemeat scandal is the convoluted route of the processed meat food chain.  I know that business has become increasingly global, but it takes an event like this to bring home just how international something we like to think of as 'fresh' in fact really is.  I know that in this case the food is frozen, but we have come to assume that it was frozen when fresh and that it will be not be more than a few months in storage before it is eaten.

Whilst I was down in the West Country over the weekend, I visited the new Morrisons store that has just opened on the outskirts of Bishopsteignton.  I can't now find the publicity photo I had of the inside of the store, but it shows a mind-boggling, and very colourful, array of fruit and veg.  I counted well over 50 different sorts of veg on one counter (there are several counters), including a couple I hadn't heard of.  But it was the countries of origin that were most revealing, bearing in mind that these are fresh veg - most of South and Central America and the West Indies were represented and several African and Asian countries too, as well as the usual Spain, France, Holland and E Europe.  This is all the result no doubt of our early history as world traders.  It is clear though that a good number of the flights filling UK airports each day are full of fresh fruit and veg of one sort or another.

But it is the supply route for frozen meals that is most indicative of the interlinked nature of today's global business.  I have mentioned before the case of peeled prawns.  This is of course a pure shipping cost over foreign wages issue, but it still shocks me.  Prawns are caught fresh off the coast of Scotland and landed at a Scottish or East coast fishing port in England.  There, some are frozen or chilled for immediate sale, but some are flown to Thailand where they are peeled before being flown back for sale here as peeled British prawns.  One day I guess employment conditions in Thailand will improve and we'll be able to stop this profligate waste of resources.  Until then, the prawns are delicious!

In the case of the original of the lasagne illustrated above, the final packaged meal is manufactured by Findus, a Swedish company with a processing factory in England.  The company used to be owned by Swiss company Nestle, who still own the Swiss Findus brand.  The meat for the product is purchased by a French company Poujol, who supply it for processing to a factory in Luxembourg owned by a company called Tavola, which is in turn owned by the French company Comigel.  Some meat seems also to have been supplied to the Luxembourg factory by another Italian-sounding firm Spanghero, which is also owned by Comigel.  Are you with me so far?  Both supplies of meat were arranged for Comigel by a contracting trading company, based in Cyprus, who bought the meat through a food trader based in the Netherlands.  And the Dutch company sourced the raw meat supply from two abattoirs in Romania. 

As if this isn't convoluted enough, it has now been suggested that organised crime syndicates in Romania, Poland and even Italy seem to have been involved in the supply.  One can only marvel that the cost of the meals - £1 in Aldi or a pony for a carton (geddit!?) - allows enough profit to be made by each company involved in the process.  And presumably enough profit to make it of interest to organised crime.  But then I guess that over each transaction along the way there must have been a lot of horse-trading.



10 comments:

  1. You are a clever fellow.

    This blog is enough to 'almost' make one become a vegetarian. At least it makes the 100 mile diet seem more sensible. It is easier, being retired, these days for us to prepare our own food. We walk to shop for a few things each day when we are living here in the village. We do eat out once a week at a home-cooked meal prepared by the Legion ladies. We are back to cooking like when we were on the ranch/farm doing stored turnips and lots of carrots that actually need peeling but also actually taste like carrots. I miss not doing our own butchering of fowl and beef and pigs though. Then you knew what they had been fed and that they went into the freezer that day they were cut up and wrapped. But the array of frozen entrees and fancy foods in the grocery stores these days must be very tempting to young families where both parents work outside of the home and want an 'easy' dinner when they get home. It is an expensive way to eat though.

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    1. Itr's a very difficult one, Karyn. I envy you your farm fresh food, but, if you're not actaully living on the farm, buying farm produce here is a bit pricey. The alternative of buying supermarket veg and meat is less expensive, but frozen meals, I'm afraid, are often even cheaper, especially for singles or couples.

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  2. Yes, you have hit the nail on the head. I remember when the Eu discussion was big and Switzerland voted against it. One of the problems was the fact that perhaps peanuts imported to one country were being sent to another country to be processed and then to another to be packed. I bought filet of beef for my Sunday lunch. Special offer, but the butcher said it is not Swiss (not that I cared), but it was Australian. Flown in under cool temperatures and sold in my local Swiss supermarket. You have really explained this perfectly.

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    1. Oh dear, I fear Australian/NZ beef was a concession we negotiated on entry to the EEC (as it then was). NZ lamb is cheaper here than British lamb which is a problem for our producers.

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  3. Very clever title for your post, and the picture made me laugh out loud, very creative (although I guess to a non-UK resident it might not mean much).

    Yes, this does illustrate how truly international the food trade is, and in ways that I suspect many are (or were) unaware of. I still think too much is being made of the fact that it's ~gasp~ horse-meat, rather on the more disturbing elements, such as organised crime gangs being able to so easily affect the food chain unchallenged.

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    1. Me too, Mitch, though I've been pleasantly surprised that we haven't yet had headlines like 'MY LITTLE PONY BURGER'.

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  4. I felt very sorry when I heard the case , what a complicated trade .To be honest I was proud of myself that I dont eat meat and not much of chicken and fish so will never have problems of this kind.
    Loved your picture :-))

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    1. This is certainly one response, Fatos.

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  5. Interesting. The roast and steaks I bought today are: http://www.certifiedangusbeef.com/brand/index.php and the pork tenderloin is http://www.farmlandfoods.com/ I pay a lot of attention to where the meat is from.

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    1. Yes, I pay more attention to fresh meat AND veg actually. It is nice to buy green beans in UK for example when it's winter and only root veg is in the farms, but I usually check to see where they've come from. But, with some exceptions, the cost of all this fresh veg is not so high and it's the cheap frozen foods that are the worry (and the temptation!).

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