The government are making a pig’s ear of dealing with the horsemeat crisis. Their response has been abysmal – slow and inadequate, too little action too late. This is while the scale of the contamination of beef is proving to be quite astounding. The Conservatives have got a appalling history of dealing with food crisis’s –perhaps it’s because food is something outside their peripheral vision (certainly for the likes of upper-class Ministers).
Going back in time there was for example the 1988 Egg scandal – a self inflicted wound perpetrated by Health Minister Edwina Curry (whose eye was probably taken off the ball by randy John Major) when she all but brought the UK egg industry down by making highly irresponsible claims about salmonella infection.
Also there was the dreadful BSE fiasco (incidentally which brought the Food Standards Agency, the FSA, into being). This 1986 identified cattle illness known as ‘mad cow disease’ caused the virtual collapse of our beef industry and stopped UK beef exports in the mid 1990’s for some 10 years, after it had mutated and progressed to the human form CJD (a horrific brain disease) – this was notwithstanding the fact that the Conservative government had spent a decade denying the possibility of any problem – saying there was ‘no evidence of human transmission’, even until the last possible moment. “There is currently no scientific evidence that BSE can be transmitted to humans or that eating beef causes CJD in humans. That issue is not in question” (John Major, The Prime Minister, Dec.1995). Only when new damming scientific evidence was published in October 1996 did the government acknowledge the truth (and then it was too late).
The previous two Conservative administrations (Thatcher & Major) have suffered the legacy and ignominy of failure over major food issues and it looks like David Cameron’s government is going to suffer the same fate.
The man in government supposedly in charge is Owen Paterson (but he seems not to have a grip) and he, as well as the other relevant authorities, persist in making public statements that there is no health risk so ‘carry on eating’. How can this rubbish advice be justified when we have a situation that food matter has illegally entered the food chain which has not been controlled or passed as ‘fit for human consumption’? There are clear public health issues arising and the government can’t duck out of its responsibilities
A cross party MP committee have also slated Ministers’ handling as being ‘flat-footed’.
While the government are not directly to blame for the fraudulent behaviour of some meat suppliers & processors, nevertheless their changes in the way food safety issues are handled have certainly contributed, as has the reduction in staff and funding to the FSA. Ministers’ attempts to put all the blame on the food industry just won’t wash.
Behind the scenes the government have been in favour of less regulatory control over food products, but now they might appreciate that we can’t rely on self rule by the suppliers (who want to make money).
There is now a massive loss of confidence by the public in the food chain. The FSA must be given new tougher powers and a system of effective and enforced food regulation has to be introduced. As food supply has become increasing global there has to be action on the European and international front.
The crisis has had one benefit though, in that hoards of lazy people might stop eating processed food and get to cook their own meals.