What started off last month as news, that traces of horsemeat DNA had been discovered by the Irish Food Standards agency in some supermarket beefburgers, has developed into a full-blown health crisis with the revelation that some ready meals contained 100% horsemeat.
The scandal has thrown a light on the entire food chain, from supermarkets to food manufacturers and suppliers and the determination of these companies to make profits at all costs – even if those costs involve food adulteration and risks to public health.
It has also revealed how the drive by the coalition to cut back public expenditure has opened the door to the crooks out to profit from the basic human requirement for food.
Above all, it has exposed how the world crisis of capitalism is being expressed most forcibly in the crisis of food, not just in the so-called poorer nations but in every country, as the price of basic commodities such as grain drive costs up to levels that are unaffordable to workers and their families. With wages being cut through pay freezes and benefits being slashed working class families, and even the middle classes, are in a daily struggle to put food on the table.
The supermarkets, with their promise of cheap food, step in to make a killing out of this poverty by demanding that their suppliers cut their costs.
These suppliers, desperate for the business, tout for cheap food across the world – the suspect contaminated beef discovered in Ireland was sourced from Poland, while the horsemeat masquerading as beef in the lasagne has been traced to Bulgaria although the finger has also been pointed to Ireland and the USA as being the providers.
In one case under investigation by the French authorities this supply chain included two French companies, a Cypriot middleman and two Belgian brokers all to furnish one consignment of meat. In this extended chain of middlemen, each out to screw a profit, the capacity for fraud is extensive.
But what of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) which is charged with safeguarding the public and ensuring that not only is what we buy accurately labelled but safe to consume.
The fact is that the FSA has not uncovered a single case of horsemeat, it was only when their Irish counterparts alerted them did they realise what was going on.
The reason for this complete dereliction of duty is down to a number of factors.
According to Unison there has been a 30% cut in the number of Trading Standards Officers as a result of the ‘bonfire of the quangos’ carried out by the coalition when it came to power, with a resultant 40% cut in the testing of animals and food products.
The main reason given for cutting back on testing was that it was just too expensive both for the government and for the food industry, which lobbied hard for a ‘light touch’ regulatory system, arguing that testing, tracking and tracing ingredients was an unnecessary expense.
All this is in line with the coalition’s constant attacks on all health and safety laws and regulations as dangerous restrictions to the ability of capitalists to make their huge profits.
The result of this is that horsemeat from animals that have not been tested, and are quite possibly riddled with disease or stuffed with veterinary drugs that are dangerous to humans, are on the supermarket shelves, in schools and hospitals.
The Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, admitted yesterday he has no idea how widespread the scandal of horsemeat being sold as beef is, adding that it is a ‘criminal conspiracy’ against the people.
This criminal conspiracy has been aided and abetted by the government acting on behalf of the criminals and the supermarkets. The sooner the government and the capitalist system it serves are consigned to the knackers yard of history the better.