Monday, 11 February 2013
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.