Saturday, February 23, 2013

Horsemeat fraud: enjoy the moments


The really fun thing about this continuing shambles is variously seeing the corporates eat crow (instead of the horsemeat they've been flogging us) or comparing their website claims with their actual performances.

Thus when we get Birds Eye withdrawing foods because of horsemeat adulteration in a Belgian chilli con carne, we turn to supplier Frigilunch which tells us they have 30 years of experience and every day "raise the bar in terms of product development, creativity, quality and food safety".

Through my career, I have heard and read so much of this corporate BS, only to see the reality behind the glitz, that cynicism is the only sensible response. 

I remember, for instance, inspecting a big-name cream gateaux manufacturer, after a complaint of glass fragments in their cakes. Standing in the cream room, I had to listen while the managers told me in great detail about their glass exclusion policy, and how carefully it was implemented to ensure no glass entered the room in which we were standing. 

Throughout the performance, I said nothing. When they had finished, I looked down at my feet, where I had been idly toying with something which had taken my interest. As their gaze followed mine, they saw the object of my fascination – a number of sizeable pieces of glass, which I had spotted as I'd come into the room. 

It would be nice now to have Mark Price, the chief executive of Waitrose, eat a bit of crow as well. Only last Sunday, he was telling us that it was shoppers who buy the cheapest food that were "at risk".

But this hubris took a knock when Davigel, the high-end French catering supplier, went down. Now it is followed by the world's biggest catering company, after news that one of its products tested positive for horse DNA. 

Sodexo, which describes itself as "the UK's largest event caterer and provider of corporate hospitality packages", and provides the catering at the Royal Ascot race meeting. The company won four awards in last year's National Racecourse Catering Awards for its food. So much for shoppers buying cheap food.

We also learn that a cutting plant in Tipperary has been closed down after inspectors found it was exporting horse meat under a label in the Czech language that translated as beef. And with horsemeat from Farmbox meats being found in burgers supplied for school meals by the Burger Manufacturing Company, the number of adulteration episodes is spiralling into the two figures. 

Hilariously, Builth Wells-based BMC describes itself as on a mission to "change the reputation and image of the humble burger". It links with Sparks Catering Butchers in London, which supplies hundreds of fast food outlets, including kebab shops, in south east England and beyond and the company also makes gourmet burgers, claiming to only use only "the finest cuts of UK and Irish Farm Assured beef".

Its website boasts of an "unforgettable eating experience" and of having received many accolades for its high standards and ethics. Our products, it says, "have full traceability and can be purchased with absolute peace of mind". The firm recently gained a silver award in "The True Taste of Wales" for its "distinctive and upmarket Kobe burger".

Pity though Asda chief executive Andy Clarke who, after his firm had to withdraw adulterated products, tells us his organisation took "a very transparent approach". Methinks his protestations, like those of the rest of the industry, are indeed transparent, but not in quite the way he thinks.