Farming feature: Lessons from horsemeat saga

Jimmy Butler examines the aftermath of 'Horsegate'

Jimmy Butler examines the aftermath of 'Horsegate' - Credit: Submitted

In this month’s NFU column, NFU and National Pig Association member JIMMY BUTLER of Blythburgh Free Range Pork, takes a canter through the Horsegate scandal

NEVER before has cheap food been so expensive. The continuous drive for cheap food by our vehemently competitive supermarkets is seen by many as the cause of ‘Horsegate’.

As I see it, the supermarkets have driven their suppliers to this situation by trying to be cheaper than their rivals, to gain a bigger percentage of the market.

Secondly, they and they alone are responsible for what goes on their labels.

They cannot and should not blame anyone else in the food chain.

Their traceability of all raw materials has to be thorough enough to put their name on to all the ingredients of the food they sell.

I have to say most of the retailers have put their hands up and admitted they were wrong and are now trying extremely hard to source British meat based products to ensure this cannot happen again.

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Some are now saying they either do or will supply Red Tractor fresh meat and have done a large amount of advertising to inform the public what the Red Tractor logo means, actually more than we, as producers, have been able to afford to do.

I am so proud of our British producers who sell under the Red Tractor label.

They have come through this with their heads held high. Yes, Red Tractor products might be a copper or two more but what price cheap food when it contains horsemeat to keep the price down?

I’m afraid we have become used to food prices being driven down.

About 40 years ago 60% of the household income was spent on food. Today only about 25% is spent on food. This has caused us to become very wasteful and throw good food away.

This starts with the retailers demanding only physically correct shaped fruit, vegetables and meat. Well surprise, surprise a bent carrot or a knobbly potato tastes exactly the same as a straight carrot or a perfect oval potato.

Then there is the confusion of sell by and best before dates, which are only for guidance. It does not mean you have to throw it away if it is one day out of the suggested dates.

It means you use common sense and if it has been stored correctly it will be fine to eat a reasonable time outside the dates.

The kitchen is the next wasteful department that could be looked at.

What went wrong with hot on Sunday, cold on Monday and minced on Tuesday? If some is still left over then stir fry on Wednesday.

This would enable busy mums or whoever does the cooking to prepare quick, cheap meals for half the working week by buying a larger, cheaper, better flavoured joint in the first place. The cheaper joints just need cooking for longer and slower.

More thought into buying and making full use of our food has been proven to halve the cost of living and would mean we could be more self sufficient in our food as a nation.

Perhaps it is time for us all to reflect on what is happening with our food.

Buy Red Tractor products, utilise them more fully and eat better for less cost. All it takes is a bit of planning.

Let’s just end with a nice thought about the weather - it can only improve!

n NFU and National Pig Association member Jimmy Butler runs Blythburgh Pigs near Southwold, Suffolk.

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