Horsemeat scandal spreads around Wales

Coralie N’ch and Tymoteusz Chajdas

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The No.1 retailer in Britain has received a heavy blow in the horsemeat scandal.

Consumers’ concerns

Fast food and frozen products can be really convenient way to save time. Mary, a Welsh woman has to juggle between her work and her family life. Cooking for the family of five takes her a lot of time and effort every day.That is why she sometimes buys frozen products which can be prepared very quickly. To prepare a quick, healthy and balanced meal she usually serves beef or pork with some vegetables on the side which she would often buy at the Cardiff Market.

Mary explained that she gained a considerable amount of time by following her routine. She could use this time to play with her children or help them with their homework. But her approach to frozen goods changed since the discovery of horsemeat in some products labelled as beef which turned into an enormous scandal in the UK.

“It stopped me from buying frozen products. I’d rather purchase fresh meat, even if this is less convenient”, she said while keeping an eye of her young daughter who was playing with other children. “I would feel concerned if I learnt my child had eaten horsemeat. There could be health issues.”

Many Welsh people are in a similar situation and most of them feel concerned by the recent news which took an international dimension in the past few weeks. The official full-page apologies placed by Tesco in many British newspapers raised awareness among the Britons and prompted David Cameron to address the issue in Parliament.

“People in our country will have been very concerned to read this morning that when they thought they were buying beef burgers, they were buying something that had horsemeat in it,” he said.

Welsh companies involved

Last Tuesday the scandal had important implications in Wales. The Farmbox Meats Ltd in Aberystwyth has suspended its work after it had been raided by the police and food safety officials. The Food Standards Agency (FSA), after having suspended both companies, confiscated all the meat and relevant paperwork which consisted of customer lists found in the two companies.

“The Food Standards Agency is currently undertaking an intensive investigation into horsemeat. The investigation remains ongoing”, answered Andrew Morris of FSA.

Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, called the fact that UK firms deceived their customers as unacceptable. “This is absolutely shocking. It’s totally unacceptable if any business in the UK is defrauding the public by passing off horsemeat as beef. I expect the full force of the law to be brought down on anyone involved in this kind of activity”, he said.

Horsemeat storm chain continues

FSA’s director of operation, Andrew Rhodes, added that he had ordered an audit of all horse-producing abattoirs in Britain after the scandal broke up last month. “I was shocked to uncover what appears to be a blatant misleading of consumers,” he commented. “I have suspended both plants immediately while our investigations continue.”

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But discount stores and unknown providers are not the only ones the customers need to be concerned about. Waitrose lately withdrew its Essential British Frozen Beef Meatballs after it was found that pork has been detected in two batches.

The horsemeat scandal started in the late September last year when the environmental and health services raised concerns about the frozen beef found at Freeza meats store in Newry, Northern Ireland. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland had begun a series of tests examining the structures of beef’s DNA which shocking results shown that 23 out of 27 beef burger samples contained traces of pork.

On December 10, further tests found that three companies, Silvercrest, Liffey Meats in Ireland and Dalepak in the UK, provided meat products which contained horsemeat. Nine days later, the scandal exploded as testing for a banned substance often used in medical treatments on horses came out negative. The Irish authorities said that there was no direct risk to human health.

At the beginning of this year, the scandal gained more public attention. Many European chain stores, such as Tesco, Lidl, Aldi, Dunnes Stores and Iceland decided to withdraw hundreds of millions of frozen burgers from supermarkets within the UK and Ireland. But shops were not the only places affected by the scandal.

The American giant Burger King, other retail traders and schools, hospitals and prisons terminated agreements with suppliers, such as Silvercrest, suspected of being involved in the scandal. The scandal hit the front pages again when Findus lasagna produced by the French supplier Comigel, were proven to contain 100% horsemeat.

Several days later, Comigel warned the British branch of Findus and Aldi that their products “do not conform to specification”. It advised to remove the Findus Beef Lasagna, Aldi’s Today’s Special Frozen Beef Lasagna and Spaghetti Bolognese. Last Tuesday, Tesco decided to withdraw its Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognese also supplied by Comigel. It was found that the product contained 60% of horsemeat.

A Findus official said: “Early results from Findus UK’s internal investigation strongly suggest that the horsemeat found in Beef Lasagna was not accidental. For this reason we are taking legal advice about the grounds for pursing a case against suppliers.”

Trust reconstruction

Many people shop in Tesco and were very surprised by these recent developments. They believe that companies were actually lying and misleading their customers.

“If you buy a product labelled as beef, you’re expecting it to be beef, and it shouldn’t be something else”, said Peppe, 23. “This will raise problems of trust in the supermarkets.”

Mathias believes that Tesco had a good reaction to the whole case. “They came clean, they said this specific product had horsemeat, so I think I can trust them now”, he said.

Stephen, 19, thinks that it is unethical to eat horses. Horse racing is considered of great importance in Britain and congregates its many enthusiasts.

While some understand that there can be ethical issues involved, others don’t seem disturbed at all by the news. Rob, 24, said “If you told me that was horse, I’d probably try it. If you go to China you’d like to try Scorpion or something.”

Burger King clients Matt and Chris did not know about Burger King’s involvement in the horsemeat scandal. They said: “if we had discovered that the burgers we ate were made of horsemeat we wouldn’t be shocked or anything, we enjoyed them!”

But some worried about the possible health implications. “I heard that they tranquilised horses with certain drugs and the meat may be harmful”, said Cathy, 22.

Besides, many social networking websites took over the controversy. On Facebook and Twitter, numerous pictures depicted horses tied to Tesco trolleys saying: “Tesco now doing… Takeaway Burgers.” A simple way could be visiting, which would allow anyone to check the percentage of horse in anything!

While the scandal is growing on the Internet and in the media, the investigation continues. Food businesses have been asked by the FSA to test their products in order to detect any potential presence of horsemeat.

New information should come to light tomorrow, as the first set of results will be released.

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