Crime and nourishment: but who will pay?
I was going to start this column by inquiring whether there was any advance on 80, which was, until midweek, the highest percentage of horsemeat so far detected in the great burger scandal.
But now Findus, one of the best-known names in the frozen food sector, has topped that with products consisting 100 per cent of an animal that was probably a faller at the third from home.
But the more this matter drags on, the more sharp practice and turning of blind eyes is revealed, the less chance I see of anyone being brought to court. I can, on the other hand, already hear the lawyers brushing off the phrases 'knowingly' and 'in good faith' in order to get the retailers off the hook, although the retailers themselves have already reached a verdict: they simply aren't guilty of anything.
The Crown Prosecution Service may have other ideas and while it may be a matter for the EU authorities to instigate action against the Irish processors and the Polish suppliers, I still maintain there is a clear-cut case to be answered here by those companies which ultimately sold goods which were not as described on the packet.
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The fines they can expect to be handed down will be derisorily small in terms of their annual profits, of course, but an appearance in court and a conviction should be a useful warning shot across the bows of the retail sector, which has been guilty of selling improbably cheap products without, apparently, taking the precaution of asking how they could be made for so little.
And I can think of no farmer who wouldn't welcome such a prosecution. After all, look at the way the authorities jump on us – the soft and easy targets – at every opportunity.
In the near-impossible situation of having to cope with the weather, rising costs, increasing legislation and volatile markets, it is inevitable that errors will creep in and that some farmers, out of sheer desperation, will be driven to take short cuts. But let just one of them be taken to court to answer for his misdemeanours and the anti-farmer brigade is leaping up and down blackening the name of the entire industry.
Those farmers who do end up being penalised represent a tiny minority of the farming community.
But when someone gets round to estimating how many million horseburgers have been foisted on the buying public by supermarkets, the scale of the scam will dwarf any wrongdoings of which the farming community has ever been guilty.