Friday, October 19, 2018

From the horse’s mouth

March 29, 2013 by  
Filed under Fen Tiger

The recent horse meat scandal is a lesson for us all, says Fen Tiger

Back in the good old days, when I first started farming, the point of the farmer was to produce food – as much food as possible. But that’s all changed over the years.

Somewhere along the line, the quality of food has been pushed down the pecking order. It’s been replaced by cheaper food, imported food, gross margins, cost-cutting and the phrase “I’m all right jack – I don’t care about anybody else.”

Local shops have perished at an alarming rate and the mighty supermarkets have taken their place. Who is to blame? With people buying a dozen burgers at £1.50 or a sunday roast plus dessert for under £10, we all are.

You can’t expect top quality food for rock bottom prices. The sad truth is that good quality meat costs money – and we the consumer seem reluctant to pay the extra prices. But is this because we won’t or can’t? Or is it because of ignorance?

Most people are unaware or unconcerned about food content or miles travelled. The result? Cypriot-registered factories based in the Netherlands which buy meat from Romania to sell in France which ends up on our shelves.

Supermarkets sell inferior cheap chickens which we seem ready to buy. But for real quality and price we must go to our local butcher. This is termed a trusted source and my local butcher is doing a great trade since the horse meat scandal – or so I thought.

Talking to the owner, he has just issued a letter warning of possible job losses due to the loss of a major contract suppling local restaurants. A new chef has arrived with the target to cut costs so he sources cheaper cuts of meat.

It’s a terrible shame as the number of butchers have fallen from 30,000 to just 6,000 over the last 20 years or so. True, they might have followed the high street decline. But we live in a world where we spend less time cooking then ever before – despite the popularity of TV cookery programmes.

Only America and Canada spend less on food per year. Our European friends spend much more and seem to value the quality more too. Funny how they spend more yet their animal welfare seems lower.

Our problems can be traced back to the government encouraging farmers to cut down woodland and rip out hedges in the pursuit of factory farming. At the same time, global trade and imports meant consumers forgot the word seasonal and expected their favourite food all year round, never raising a question about origin or quality.

In 1979, Marks & Spencer introduced its first ready meal aimed at the family too busy to cook. Today, the family meal is almost gone. Instead, the younger generation choose to sit around the television with a lap tray.

The solution is easy: don’t complain when your local butcher charges a little more for a prime steak. In fact, their prices are very reasonable .They produce good traceable meat at a price that is fair. It is the supermarket prices that are unfairly low.

Even the beef products in the better supermarkets have been found to contain pork in recent months. Why? Because quality suffers when when you try to price match your competition.

It is time we looked again at our local shops, time we cooked seasonal British products rather than food that travels around the world in 80 days. The world demands affordable food – it does not stop to think that weather patterns and higher commodity prices may prevent this.

Food has been too cheap for too long. The buy-one-get-one-free gimmicks come off the producer’s bottom line not the supermarket’s. When beef and pork prices have gone up in recent years, those products on the supermarket shelves have stayed the same price. How?

To sell for the same price they must change the recipe or change the raw ingredients. As we are now finding out. So support your local butcher, if you can find one, pay the extra and be grateful it does what it says on the can.

We have all been guilty of buying the cheapest products. Instead, we should enhance our communities and buy local.


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