17:23 Monday 18th February 2013
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[C]HRIS MANN: More on the horsemeat scandal, because discussions are underway between representatives of the leading supermarkets and the Government right now about the scandal.The Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is talking to Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys and Morrisons, asking whether any new positive tests have come to light. Two weeks ago the Food Safety regulator ordered all beef products to be tested for horsemeat. With more on all this, here’s our business reporter Adam Kirtley.
ADAM KIRTLEY: Well Owen Paterson the Environment Secretary wants the food retailers, and trade bodies to be fair, to outline what they’re going to do to rebuild trust, because since this hit, really, trust has gone quite a lot. This is a survey of around two and a half thousand people. 62% say they’re more likely to buy their meat from independent shops. 24% said they would buy less processed meat, etcetera. So supermarkets have a job to do to restore confidence. Evidently it’s in their interest to, but the Environment Secretary wants to know how they’re going to do it. And that’s what he’s talking to them about.
CHRIS MANN: So what are they likely to be saying to him?
ADAM KIRTLEY: Well they’ll say look, of course it’s in our interest to restore trust, because we’re victims too. We didn’t ask for this to happen. We’ve been let down by, you know, somebody way down the supply chain. Now that’s fine, except at the end of the day we buy from the retailers. So it is their job, I think Owen Paterson will say, to make sure that they have a rigorous control of their supply chain. And evidently, when you’re selling things that involve so many middle men across Europe – the meat comes from Romania via a packing house in Luxembourg via an agent in Amsterdam, all that stuff – how can you keep tabs on it? It’s not like popping down to the local farmers’ market in Cambridgeshire and buying from a farmer that you know. And maybe that would be a better thing. But of course this tends to come in the cheap processed food or the value burger range, and it’s people wanting a lot of stuff for not a lot of money, and corners have to be cut.
CHRIS MANN: Adam we’ve just revealed on this programme that our local council, Cambridgeshire County Council, has tested their meat. They know the suppliers. It’s fine. And they supply to the four, five, counties around us. But yet the head of Iceland has blamed other local councils. Why?
ADAM KIRTLEY: It’s a very strong attack by this guy called Malcolm Walker, the Chief Executive of Iceland. I just wonder whether it will come back to bite him. Because he said retailers could not be held responsible for the horsemeat scandal. If we’re going to blame somebody, let’s start with local authorities. They drive the contract price down so much that, you know, evidently the economy products are going to get through and some of them may be contaminated. Well certainly – you’ve mentioned Cambridgeshire – certainly in the county I live in Chris, they’re at pains to point out they source as much as they can locally. So .. the Local Government Association is saying his comments are disappointing. I just think he’s had his reasons for saying it and presumably will stick to his guns. But I’m not sure blaming everybody is really going to be the help that is needed to get people’s trust back.
CHRIS MANN: I wonder where we’re going next in this controversy. We’ve heard about donkeys and asses. Believe it or not the word racehorse appeared in the headline on Friday which of course locally, with Newmarket so close to us, it’s one that got eyebrows raised.
ADAM KIRTLEY: Well one of the abattoirs involved had a contract with Aintree, didn’t he, to take injured horses at races. So goodness knows if that is ending up in .. it makes that awful awful joke about low in fat high in Shergar seem a little bit true.
CHRIS MANN: You said it, not me.
ADAM KIRTLEY: It’s one of the ones going round. You know, it is awful, and something has to be done about it. Now what is going forward is testing, lots and lots of tests on products. And most, well in fact all of the supermarkets have done tests on products, and they’re still ongoing. There’s many more tests to do. But none of the ones that they’ve done so far have shown any further signs of horsemeat. So it seems to be, as far as we can tell with the tests done so far, that the horsemeat has managed to be stopped. But of course there’s still a lot of tests to go, and we’ll have to wait and see.
CHRIS MANN: And we should remember the horse has already bolted. The tests are taking place after that’s happened of course.
ADAM KIRTLEY: Well indeed.
CHRIS MANN: Adam, tests cost a lot of money, and I would hazard a guess, at the end of the day, there’s only one person is going to be paying for that.
ADAM KIRTLEY: Well there’s two things there. A, yes, the tests do cost a lot of money, and it’s going to take a lot of money to sort out rigorous monitoring of supply chains etcetera. But I think there’s a bigger point about money, and that is this. It has evidently been proven that if you want something so cheap that contains meat, and the price is driven so low, and maybe this is the point that Malcolm Walker was trying to make, you will find corners being cut. You will find people having to try and make any sort of money out of the deal at all having to cut corners. Now it’s illegal and they should be punished etcetera. But temptation evidently has got in the way, and if you want six burgers for a quid or something, you may end up getting what you pay for, which is horse.