Horsemeat scandal shows need for constant vigilance

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 February, 2013, 5:21am


Food safety standards are such that we think twice about buying produce from mainland China but do not hesitate to purchase what comes from Europe. The regularity of Chinese scandals and their pervasiveness throughout the food chain have sent the clear message that until there is proven change we have every right to be careful about what we choose to eat. Outrage in the European Union, and especially Britain, about horsemeat found in products labelled as containing beef, is food for thought. It has sent officials scurrying to discover the failings in the region's much-respected regulations.

Britain's woes are cause for Hong Kong to make sure its monitoring systems are working properly, especially as horse DNA was found yesterday in beef products sold in the city.

A British parliamentary report has concluded that consumers have been "cynically and systematically duped" for profit. It concluded that the government's cuts in funding to the regulatory Food Standards Agency had weakened testing mechanisms. The uncovering of unscrupulous behaviour in the industry shines a light on the more serious issue of safety flaws.

Horsemeat is cheaper than beef and a food taboo for many. European governments are now randomly testing meat products for horse DNA and the horse anti-inflammatory drug known as bute, which can affect human health. Many in Britain have understandably changed the way they shop and will continue to do so until they have been reassured. Governments' failure to respond quickly and effectively has caused concern about safety oversight in the food industry.

We naturally assume food from developed nations is safe. But in a world of high demand and pressure for profits, the possibility of accidents and unscrupulous practices are ever-present. That means the regime of inspections and tests have to at all times be sturdy. Germany found that out two years ago after the carcinogen dioxin was discovered in eggs, and now Britain has realised it as well. A government's most important job is to ensure the health and well-being of its citizens.