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EU nagging put nag in your burger

“More regulation” is the cry in every gagging throat, following the revelation that numerous cheap meat dishes in several supermarkets that were labelled as beef or lamb actually contained horsemeat.

Regulation caused the problem in the first place.

From today’s Times (subscriber only):

The Government knew last summer that a sudden ban on cheap British beef and lamb meant it was “inevitable” that unlawful meat would be imported from Europe.

Unintended consequences, again. It would make a horse laugh.

Jim Paice, the former Agriculture Minister, warned the committee last summer that unlawful meat would be imported from Europe as manufacturers sought cheap sources to make up for banned British supplies.

The warning came after the FSA [Food Standards Agency] suddenly told meat processors to halt the production of “desinewed” beef and lamb, which was used in tens of millions of ready meals, burgers and kebabs each year, after orders from European Commission inspectors.

The committee demanded in July last year that the Government set out its plans to prevent illegal imports, stating: “The Agriculture Minister’s evidence suggested that it was inevitable that wrongly labelled or unlawful meat products would be importing into the UK to replace UK produced desinewed meat.”

Emphasis added. Do not, however, expect this aspect to be emphasised in the Radio 4 Food Programme. I could be proved wrong; there is a podcast here which I am not in the mood to listen to, but so far the BBC’s coverage has been a relentless flow of, if you will forgive yet another revolting processed meat metaphor, pink slime.

28 comments to EU nagging put nag in your burger

  • There’s another aspect to this, also having to do with regulation. A global problem, really.

  • Andrew Duffin

    I agree, but there is still another aspect: I have heard it said, that the so-called “inspectors” from the various agencies, who visit abattoirs and factories, never actually step outside the offices.

    If the regulations are enforced solely by inspecting the papertrail, evasion and corruption are practically a certainty.

  • Sam Duncan

    Indeed, Andrew D. Richard North at EU Referendum has been covering the story in his usual thorough manner. Even more so than the banking crisis, this is clearly a failure of regulation rather than a lack of it. I particularly like this line, echoing yours:

    Where the value of a product is entirely dependent on its labelling and its paperwork, fraud is an inevitable consequence.

    I can think of plenty of other cases where that applies. Fiat money is, of course, entirely labelling and paperwork.

  • llamas

    Andrew Duffin wrote:

    ‘If the regulations are enforced solely by inspecting the papertrail, evasion and corruption are practically a certainty…’

    And also the corollary – when deviations are alleged based solely on the paper trail, the inevitable result will be lower food safety, lower food quality and higher costs.

    This is how we see the ‘recalls’ of simply vast quantities of foodstuffs, especially meat, based solely on the paper trail. Most of this meat is perfectly wholesome and has no issues whatever – but the paper trail implicates all of it, either because it is incomplete (a missing tick in a box = contaminated, in the bureaucratic mind) or because it is connected only by a paper trail to product that does have issues (if the meat product of one cow is suspect, then all meat, from all cows processed in the same facility, or travelling in the same railcar, or coming from the same seller, for weeks before and after, is tainted by paperwork association, according to some combination of connectivity understandable only to the mind of a Federal meat inspector).

    By the same token, I would be fascinated to know how much of this horse meat hysteria (I say Neigh-Neigh!) is based on paperwork (both present, or absent), and how much is based on actual testing of actual products to see whether they contain actual horse meat. I, for one, question whether there are actually enough horses in Europe to supply the amounts of meat products that are now in question.

    I’ll wager a large part of the products now being labelled as suspect are actually products for which the paper trail is merely incomplete or contains some other, trivial error.

    It is ever the urge of a large State bureaucracy to move away as quickly as possible from objective data (test and measurement) towards the comforting certainty of paperwork, and then to imbue the paperwork with the same power and effect as the objective data it replaced. As noted, whenever all reliance for safety is transferred from objective data to documentation, the opportunity for evasion and fraud skyrockets.

    I got some blood work done the other day. One of the test results came back with a silly-abnormal number. Just wildly outside the normal range, even though everything else on the testing was boringly within normal parameters, and actually mostly at the good end. This prompted a semi-panicked call from some paper-pusher at my health provider, scheduling me for immediate appointments and further testing, because I was obviously at risk of keeling over from a heart attack any minute. This functionary could not get her mind around the idea that this is absolutely-certainly an erroneous result, some defect in the test or reporting. Her paperwork said that this number = imminent death. She wasn’t at all happy that I laughed off her conceerns and told her I’d have it re-tested at some convenient time, maybe never.

    That’s the mindset you’re dealing with. Words on paper have a talismanic power that exceeds any real-world observation.



  • Brian Micklethwait (London)

    Has anyone actually died from eating this wicked horse meat?

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Brian, no – although I gather horsemeat generally has a high probability of being contaminated with a vaguely harmful drug called “bute” that is given to horses, I forget why. Tesco and the other supermarkets, however, really have offended by deceiving their customers (albeit inadvertently) as to what the customers were buying. Even if the aversion to eating horsemeat is completely irrational, that does not affect the right of the customer not to be led into doing what he did not want to do by false labelling. I am completely sure you agree with this and have already thought of it, so consider the above a general observation.

    And thank you all who commented. I have nothing much to say other than “I agree”. The ban on horsecarts (see Alisa’s link) that they’ve only just started enforcing in Romania is particularly indicative of the typical results of regulation. The original rule was obviously put in place by insecure would-be tranzis with a pathetic desire to be “modern”. But of course they ignored it until recently, adding unpredictability and capriciousness into the mix. A government of men rather than laws, and particularly stupid men at that.

  • llamas

    ‘Bute’ is phenylbutazone, an NSAID that could well be called ubiquitous in the vet trade. It is the first thing any vet will reach for to treat a wide range of pain and inflammation in animals, because of its broad-spectrum effectiveness and low risk/incidence of minor side-effects. Ibuprofen for horses.

    Many older animals will be put on a maintenance regime of bute to treat chronic issues like arthritis and degenerative conditions of the legs and feet.

    It’s not approved for human use (anymore). I don’t know why. I know several people in the vet trade who take it themselves. I’m sure it has side-effects, but what doesn’t?

    I think the whole ‘bute’ issue is pure hysteria. The amount of bute you’d get in a horse steak is just laughably miniscule. A typical dose is 1-2 mg/kg body weight, and it metabolizes very quickly.



  • Gareth

    At present the phenylbutazone issue is almost entirely related to UK sourced horse meat. UK authorities have been finding tainted samples for a while now and issue alerts to the country where the shipments were going to. There has been one alert concerning horse meat from other EU member states and that was Poland, in 2007, but of course this doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem elsewhere – it could just mean they haven’t looked into it properly or it is not being reported properly.

    As for desinewed meat that is an issue of definition and evidence. Mechanically separated meat from beef, sheep and goat was banned from the food supply as a result of the BSE scare. Pig and poultry msm is still allowed I believe. ‘Desinewed’ meat is simply the same process as for msm but using low pressure jets of water rather than high pressure jets. The claim from the UK authorities and producers was something along the lines of desinewed meat still retaining the protein structures of meat while msm does not.

    What the EU did was audit the UK production of desinewed meat and determined that the end product was not sufficiently different from msm to be allowed with respect to beef, sheep and goat.

  • A hypothetical question: if I get a chunk of ground meat without any contaminants, is there a way to tell whether it came from cow, horse or any other mammal? DNA?

  • Laird

    Why is perfectly edible horsemeat considered a “contaminant”?

  • Paul Marks

    The works of Dr Richard North and Mr Christopher Booker have (again and again) shown how this industry has been tied into knots by a vast tidel wave of E.U. directives and other such.

    Yet the media just assume that “more regulation” is the answer (not the problem).

    It is what Perry calls the “meta context”.

    For two centuries now the philosophical elite (even the “liberal” part of it – such as Sir William Hamilton and J.S. Mill) has used the term “the state” as a sort of holy thing – in the hushed tones of Germanic philosophy (in German philosophy the worship of the state seems to go back to the Reformation – but it became especially noteworthy in the 17th and 18th centuries).

    It is the duty of the state to “protect the people”.

    Once that fallacy is accepted as truth – reason dies.

    In the English speaking world government used to be held in suspicion – but then came the cult (the myth) of Frederick the Great and “Prussianism” (in some ways Karl Marx was indeed the “Red Prussian”).

    The idea that the state really could be the guardian of all that was good – and the agent of progress and rationality (a view once held only by a few freaks such as Sir Francis Bacon – “The New Atlantis”).

    “Paul it is a bit of a leap from Frederick the Great to meat regulations”.

    Not at all – it is but one step.

    For if one accepts the idea of the honest and rational state (the state as the core of honesty and rationality) then putting it charge of the quality of mean makes sense.

    And, in practice, that is exactly the sort of thing Frederick the Great did with his regulations.

  • Sean

    When I first heard this story I thought how handy it was to come out just in time to bury the latest Stafford hospital report. That’s the real scandal to me – just how easy it is to pull the wool over the media’s eyes.

  • Laird: for the same reason other people would consider a perfectly edible rat’s meat a contaminant, or Jews/Muslims would consider both horse meat and pork a contaminant, and Hindus would think similarly of beef. It really is all about culture.

  • hovis

    Alisa: NO. It is not all about culture, nor does the point that horsemeat is often edible have any relevance. red herrings both following on from the plethora of BS puff pieces in the MSM on there is no risk from horse meat. Corporate (and Corporatist) misdirection.

    The issue is mislabelling and CONSENT. If I wish to put something my body I should actively choose to consume it. I shall steal a comment from elsewher which sums it up well – it may all be lips and arseholes but it is labels beef, then it should be cow’s lips and arseholes.

    For a libertarisn blog too many seem to ignore this issue conflicts with the exercise of free choice and consent.

  • Hovis: I was simply considering it from the perspective of personal preferences and their subjective reasons. I absolutely agree with your point, and am glad to see that your Caps-Lock key is fully functional:-)

  • hovis

    Alisa: Apologies if I misconstrued you, I suffer from the red mist over this as there is so much guff and misdirection. CaPS LOck working fine, but thankfully not stuck … 🙂

  • No harm done, and no hoofed animals were overcooked in the (second) course of this discussion.

  • Laird

    FWIW, I also agree that this an issue of proper labelling, i.e., consent, and that it’s entirely wrong to sell something as beef if it’s actually horsemeat. I merely take issue with calling it a “contaminant”, which (to me) implies a health hazard, as opposed to being merely dishonest labelling.

  • Laird, I think that by ‘contaminant’ most people mean something that is not fit to eat – but not necessarily for health reason. I – as well most people – could be wrong.

  • Julie near Chicago

    One comment to the article at The Week cited by Alisa, responding to other comments about the possibility of dead racehorses getting into the human diet, said that there’s some danger if they are, because many racehorses are injected with steroids.

    Another comment says that in fact the French do have problems with illness resulting from eating horsemeat.

    My personal reaction is, “What! You’re asking me to eat Black Beauty?!!”

  • Laird

    Actually, Julie, my thought was more along the lines of Mr. Ed.

  • Julie near Chicago


    That works too. 🙂 I also thought of Misty of Chincoteague.

    Just as long as you don’t ask me to eat Harvey. –OTOH, I grew up eating quite a few of P. Rabbit’s brothers and sisters….

  • Julie near Chicago

    OMG! Laird!! They also want us to eat Silver — and TRIGGER!!!

  • William O. B'Livion

    Dumb, paranoid question:

    Is there just as much hassle and regulation of *all* food products, or only meat and other stuff vegans and right minded people disapprove of?

    I’m just asking because I’m in a paranoid and cleaning my guns kinda mood.

    Or I would be if my guns were dirty.

  • William: vegans don’t eat meat anyway, and so even if they care, common sense tells me that it is people who do eat meat who would be interested in the close inspection of the meat they purchase.

    Laird: at his age, I’m afraid Mr. Ed is inEdible.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Alisa, *EEE-E-E-E-W-W-WWWWWWW!!!!* [Required response to an excellent pun]