On horsemeat and Lassie Faire….and that’s not a type of Lasagne!

Was extremely busy the last few weeks to the point where everything (even getting my hair cut!) got put on hold until I could clear the back log of work.

I was going to make a horsy joke out of the last line but decided against it, I think people are sick of hearing them or hearing about horsemeat and how they might have unwittingly been dining on Shergar or Black Beauty.

Now the authorities have been quick to point out that it’s still perfectly safe to eat horsemeat, the French do it all the time. But I think they are ignoring the fact that the meat processors weren’t putting this stuff in the food for our health. No, they were doing it as a result of a conscious effort to cut corners, which sort of suggests that this horsemeat issue is merely the tip of the iceberg of corners cut and food safety standards ignored.

Of course many have been quick to point the finger in various directions. The tabloids were practically foaming at the mouth while collapsing in a catatonic fit when it was suggested that Romanian abattoirs were responsible (it has since come out that the British ones were equally at fault). Bloody Romanian horses coming over here, taking jobs off of British cows! :))

The supermarkets have been quick to point the finger every which way they can. They firstly tried to blame the EU (again an obvious Spin tactic as they knew the tabloids would pick up on it) for reclassifying how the labelled “meat” (those bed wetting eurocrats decided that reconstituted bone and gristle couldn’t be called “meat” anymore, meaning that as “pink slime”lasagne doesn’t sound too appealing they had to cut corners and use ground up pony instead). Then they tried to blame local councils and even customers themselves for trying to cut costs and buy the meat the supermarkets put on the shelves (the nerve of them!).

In short the attitude of the supermarkets doesn’t appear to be that far removed from that of a burglar who, having been caught stealing blames the person he robbed for having all this shiny stuff lying around the house and not having better security in place to deter him.

Ultimately the reason why there is horsemeat and who knows what in the meat is due to the supermarkets and their near Victorian era policy of brutal competition. Frequently supermarkets will arbitrarily impose a price cut on a product and inform a supplier of this cut after the event and leave it up to him to figure out how such cuts are going to be implemented. Of course the thought of how the supplier is supposed to implement such price cuts on a product already being produced and sold at below the price of production does not occur to the supermarket. Nor does it seem the thought that the supplier faced with the choice of loosing a major buyer or cutting a few corners will choose the latter and let standards slip. But inevitably if they are selling a beef lasagne for a pound when the corner shop down the street’s selling the same thing for £3.50, corners are being cut somewhere. Economies of scale only go so far.

Solutions?
The solution is to break the near monopolistic powers of the supermarkets. Breaking them up or putting limits on store sizes, etc. is sorely needed. There is also a need for suppliers to grow a spine. They need to rediscover what brands are all about.

If BMW or Boeing were told by their lead buyer that they were going to be paid 20% less from now on for the product, but they could avoid the breadline if they say removed all safety equipment and made the brake disks out of cardboard. I suspect they’d tell the buyer to go take a hike. Both these companies know that any issue of safety will come straight back to them and in an industry as well regulated as they work in such a scandal could prove fatal to the company and its image.

Similarly the brands who supply to supermarkets need to remember what they exist for. The history of brands came about because back in the bad old days of the Victorians the lassie-faire economics of the era led to all sorts of cheating going on. Unscrupulous retailers would put industrial chemicals into toothpaste and other cosmetics, mix saw dust into food too bulk it up or mix paint into foods to make the right colour and indeed pass off horsemeat as beef. The idea of brands came about because customers would be assured that when you bought say Heinz beans you were buying quality.

Inevitably the lassie faire policies of the supermarkets has driven us full circle. The brands themselves therefore need to realise that they must resist the powers of the supermarkets, stand up to such aggressive tactics and not cut corners. After all Warren Buffett only paid 28 billion for Heinz the other week because its perceived to be a good quality brand. If horsemeat shows up in their food he could quickly find himself in negative equity.

There is also a need for us the customers to realise that there is a price to be paid for low prices. If we keep buying the bargain basement cheap crap, the supermarkets will keep selling it. I generally buy my meat and veg (where I can) from either local butchers or farmers markets. While I pay a bit more I can, unlike many, tell exactly where my food came from. So vote with you’re feet and buy local!

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