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article imageReview: 'What’s Really in our Food?' Special

By Alexander Baron     Feb 19, 2013 in Health
Monday night the BBC ‘Panorama’ programme covered the ongoing horsemeat scandal. The good news is this is not really a contamination problem. There is bad news too however.
Before the half hour Panorama programme was screened, the same subject - food fraud - was covered by an episode of Dominic Littlewood's Fake Britain, which was shown because BBC news programmes had been disrupted by an NUJ strike. Although Littlewood didn't investigate the horsemeat scandal, he did go out with local food inspectors - the people who appear in this programme - to inspect fast food outlets which were selling "fake ham". This sounds more sinister than it is, the problem is that while pizza is extremely popular, Britain's large Moslem population won't eat ham because it is haram; "fake ham" is halal, however. It is also turkey rather than pork. In this programme, the food inspectors make it clear they have no problem with takeaways serving turkey pizza, provided the customers know what they are getting. The horsemeat scandal is not quite as simple.
This is not the first time this sort of thing has happened in the UK; the programme makers have dug out some archive footage from 1948, but this was during rationing after the Second World War.
In spite of their rhetoric, the Panorama team produce little or no evidence that either the supermarkets or the Food Standards Agency have been negligent. One expert summed it up in a nutshell: the minute you go outside the UK, the problems begin.
Even in Romania and Ireland, the twin sources of the problem, the authorities got to grips with it fairly promptly. This was clearly the work of criminal gangs, but now that it is out in the open, both the food police and Parliament have got to grips with it. There is some suggestion that some of this horsemeat has been unfit for human consumption, but the Government's Chief Medical Officer Professor Sally Davies dismissed these concerns. That does not mean we can afford to become complacent, but it does mean that if this is not quite a storm in a tea cup, it is more of a PR problem for the supermarkets than a real one for the consumer.
The final word belongs to Malcolm Walker, the plain speaking Chief Executive of the Iceland supermarket chain. Supermarkets can't test everything they sell, but their own label products are tested rigorously. "...don't panic. British supermarkets have got the best food safety standards in the world."
Iceland has since apologised for his comments, not for his what he said about the burgers, but for what he said about "the Irish".
Only in Britain could someone turn a food safety issue into..bore, bore...racism.
More about Panorama, Horsemeat, FSA, Food standards agency
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