THE BLOG

The Horse Meat Scandal - We're Part of the Problem

08/09/2014 15:42 BST | Updated 05/11/2014 10:59 GMT

By mistaking cheapness for value, we have still not learned the lessons of the horse meat scandal and are complicit in creating a system that will allow it to be repeated.

Much of the media focus around the horse meat scandal report, led by Professor Chris Elliott from Belfast Queen's University, has been on the recommendation for a new food crime unit. But this is addressing the symptom, not the cause.

I think other aspects of this excellent report reveal more about our broken food system and how to fix it.

The latest round of supermarket price wars are not good news. They are not good news for farmers, animal welfare but also, perversely, they are not good news for consumers. As supermarkets aggressively force down prices, they put pressure on the system at every level.

What we end up with is cheap but inefficient and unsustainable practices like the intensive farming of animals. Consumers get meat that is less healthy and more damaging to the planet.

We can blame the supermarkets but they would say they are only listening to the consumer. We need to make it clear in our purchases that we won't be part of a system that leads to unidentified meat in the products we buy and allows criminals to exploit loopholes to our detriment and their gain.

We can do this by demanding clearer labelling. From 2004 all shell eggs had to be labelled as eggs from caged hens, barn, free-range or organic. In response to this clear choice in the UK, sales of free-range eggs shot up and now represent more than 50% of the market.

Consumers reacted by buying free-range, paying a little more for a better quality product that allows the farmer to make a living and the hens to enjoy a better quality of life. This system needs to be extended to meat products. I am confident that consumers will vote with their cash and help create a system that makes a repeat of the horse meat scandal far less likely.

We can also opt for free-range or organic produce where possible, making consumer demand part of the solution, rather than the problem.

By recognising our part in this scandal, we can help make sure it does not happen again.