Two years ago, Britain was rocked by the horsemeat scandal and shoppers worried that they couldn’t be sure what was on supermarket shelves. Now, the man appointed by the government to investigate it warns that it could happen again.
The Elliott Review into the Integrity and Assurance of Food Supply Networks, by Professor Chris Elliott, was published last year. His remit isn’t animal welfare: it’s public safety, as issues were not only that meat was fraudulently described, but that it could contain traces of medication.
But if the European Commission paid more attention to horse welfare – in particular, by meeting demands in World Horse Welfare’s campaign – both humans and horses would benefit. WHW is campaigning to introduce a maximum journey limit of 12 hours and to ensure that a European-wide equine ID system is introduced and enforced.
Prof Elliott, head of the Institute for Global Food Security, told the 2015 Fighting Food Fraud conference that up to 50,000 horses from across Europe ‘disappeared’ between 2008, the year of the global banking collapse, and 2013. He believes many ended up in our food system.
I don’t want to eat horsemeat and I suspect most horse owners feel the same. At the same time, I don’t condemn the concept – it’s the horrific journey and conditions many slaughter horses face that’s the problem.
WHW has done a fantastic job in lobbying, monitoring horses destined for slaughter on their journeys and raising public awareness. It, and everyone who supports it, can’t give up. The conditions in which many of these horses travel are disgusting – but so is the fact that the European Commission shows no sign of changing the law, despite the fact that its own scientific advisors have advised it to do so.
Prof Elliott told the Fighting Food Fraud conference that the only way consumers could be sure that what they were eating was what it said on the label was for everyone, from farmers to retailers, to work together and improve the integrity of the food chain. No one would argue with that, but research in the UK by the National Office of Animal Health shows that restoring public confidence and protecting animal welfare is a huge problem.
NOAH found that many people believed that using antibiotics to treat sick animals made the drugs less effective for people, and that it’s possible for vaccines to get into meat and harm the consumer. They don’t, and it isn’t, but imagine a scenario where, for instance, animals couldn’t be vaccinated against life-threatening illnesses.
It’s great that food fraud has such a high profile. But if Europe paid more attention to animal welfare, it might be easier to tackle.