I can’t understand why everyone is so surprised about horsemeat in burgers. Didn’t the price of processed meat products make people suspicious? Did anyone really think that they were made of rib-eye steak from organic Wagyu cattle?
Cheap, reconstituted meat products were the Jimmy Savile of the freezer cabinet, we suspected something was up but kept quiet because the truth was unpalatable.
Personally, I can’t understand all the middle class indignation over the subject. If people choose to eat rubbish food, that’s up to them — it’s their taste buds. Consumers of cheap food have got off lightly, I think. The fact that their burgers contain horse is a better outcome than they deserve. The maths always suggested to me that lips, ears and udders figured heavily in their diet.
Ever since man learnt how to mince animal parts mechanically, processed food manufacturing has been a race to the bottom of the barrel. I’m sure it started out innocently enough, beefurgers would have been mostly skirt steak with the odd rectum slipped into the mincer when no one was looking. But each time a new supermarket buyer took up post and squeezed the price, the ratio of steak to eyelid would have decreased a little more. When the fashion for eating calamari took off in London, I suppose that the market price for rectums increased beyond the budget of the beefburger manufacturers and they had to start looking at other species.
The challenge is where we go from here. Since the spike in commodity prices, there are very few things cost effective enough to be considered as ingredients in a 20p beef burger. With straw and nitrogen at current prices, farmyard manure certainly wouldn’t be cheap enough anymore. The renewable heat incentive has even made waste cardboard more valuable elsewhere. I thought about soil as a meat substitute at one stage but, with land values at £50,000 per hectare in South Lincolnshire, it would probably be cheaper to use beef.
I’ve drawn up the only recipe for an affordable burger which I think could work. If we blend offal with asbestos, used chemical containers, broken refrigeration equipment, bald tyres, fluorescent light tubes, used nappies and hair, we may just be able to keep the price low enough to satisfy the retailers.If we could create a functioning market for all of these alternative commodities, it would stop people fly-tipping them in my hedgerows. It’s a win-win situation. I admit that my recipe might need extra onions, but with the trade as it is this year, that scores as yet another advantage to my marvellous idea.
Of course, there is another much more radical option. Consumers could show more interest in what they are putting in their mouths. Food could be priced fairly. Shoppers on tight budgets could choose to eat meat less frequently and to find protein from other sources. The multiple retailers could stop pretending that they don’t know exactly what is going on in their supply chains. Supermarket buyers could stop running away from approved and audited UK suppliers to buy cheap, untraceable imports, as they have with potatoes this year.
Either way, all we UK farmers can do is to carry on farming in the way that we believe to be right. We must keep telling consumers about our values. Ultimately it is their choice to support us or to tell us to burger off.
Matthew Naylor farms 162ha (400 acres) of Lincolnshire silt in partnership with his father, Nev. Cropping includes potatoes, vegetables, cut flowers and flowering bulbs. Matthew is a Nuffield scholar.
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