The food scandal: we get what we pay for... - Veterinary Practice
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The food scandal: we get what we pay for…

continues the series of reflections on issues of current concern

THERE will be many of you out
there who were as shocked as I was
to hear that some of the beef
burgers on sale at popular
supermarkets contained as much as
60% horse meat.

Shocked because one never
imagined it was economically possible to
include so much quality ingredient in a
20p burger instead of just sawdust and
a few “e” numbers.

Yes I know it is wrong to be
facetious about something so potentially
serious but are we not all guilty of
falling for the Emperor’s
new clothes in food
production terms? If even
mediocre quality minced
beef costs £2 a pound, it
doesn’t take a genius to
work out that 20p will only buy you 1.6

That’s a mighty small burger (more
like a meatball) and there’s the
packaging, transport, and middleman
(middlemen) to pay on top of that. It
never ceases to amaze me what we are
prepared to shovel down our throats so
long as the packaging is cheerful and the
price is right.

Naturally enough, there are
numerous worthies now coming out of
the woodwork and talking about over-
complicated supply chains and food
miles and the importance of eating local
produce. There is much sense in this
even in a global market and a recession.

Sausage skins from China…

How, for instance, can it possibly be
sensible (even if it is economic) to be
importing sausage skins from China?
One of the most sensible pieces of
advice I heard as a result of all the
hullabaloo was that one should never
eat a minced beef product unless one
has seen the piece of proper meat it was
actually made from.

Strangely enough, I believe there is a
common link between this “scandal”
and the rather larger scandal at Stafford
Hospital that was the subject of a
detailed report published recently. And
I’m not talking about the fact that very
soon institutions like hospitals and
schools will almost certainly be found to
have served up horse meat at some time
or other in the not too distant past.

No, what I’m talking about is the
mountain of regulations and
bureaucracy that exists to prevent horse
meat appearing in beef burgers and
patients dying from starvation,
dehydration and neglect. A bureaucracy
that is policed by a plethora of inspectors (I know because I’ve been
one) who simply have to go through the
motions of ticking the boxes and
signing off the paperwork because there
is no other sane way of doing things.

Take the example of the
contaminated burgers, for instance.
How on earth can anyone manage to
police a product that is travelling
hundreds of miles from abattoir to
manufacturing plant and then hundreds
of miles again to the final retailer?

the same time the contracts might be
signed by any number of middlemen who are tasked with producing the final
product to a price that leaves a very
dubious margin of profit if all the small
print is rigorously adhered to.

Naturally enough there will be a
paper trail that “proves” everything is
legal and above board but, believe you
me, an inspector needs to be a trained
accountant and actuary to have any
chance of tying up the number of tons
of raw material that arrived over a
period of x number of days with the
net weight of burgers that left the
factory over a completely different
period of time. Plus, of course, taking
account of those that are still in cold
storage and the raw product that has
yet to be processed. Quite frankly there
is no chance.

Strangely, I suspect that the
paperwork at Stafford Hospital will also
show that there is nothing to worry

The right boxes ticked…

Indeed it will probably “prove” that all
those patients who died needlessly
received exemplary care with all the
right boxes ticked and no areas of
concern highlighted. Which just goes to
prove what a huge waste of time all
that box-ticking really is.

I remain convinced that none of
those suffering patients would have
cared a damn whether or not they had a
care plan that rigorously assessed them
for their Roper, Logan and Tierney 12
activities of daily living. Yes, I’m
cynical, but I don’t know many people
who are seriously ill in hospital who
give a second thought to their 10th
RLT activity of “expressing sexuality”,
which will be religiously ticked off by
the attending nurse each day as “met”.

Rather more probably (and sadly and unnecessarily as it
turns out in many
cases), they would have
been far more concerned
about the 12th activity of
“dying” which Stafford
Hospital seems shockingly
to have specialised in.

What I’m saying here is
that both these scandals have
occurred despite all the checks
and balances and paperwork that were
in place to prevent them. The answer?
It is most certainly not another layer of
spurious and overbearing paperwork
that will simply add a further burden to
those inspecting or delivering the
service and give them even less time to
actually do the work that needs doing.

Fundamental change…

What is needed is a fundamental
change in the way we see things and
value things. People need to regain
their integrity and ethical values, and if
they can’t, then they need to be
dismissed and replaced with those who

Doctors and nurses need to re-
evaluate what it is they are there for
and what in their work is just froth that
can be comfortably ignored. Anything
they do that doesn’t improve the
patient experience or the patient
outcome (and that means much if not
most of the paperwork) needs to be
jettisoned as superfluous and unfit for

Let us not forget also (before we
become too self-righteous) that when
we are admitted into the RCVS we
swear the following oath: “… above all my constant endeavour will be to
ensure the health and welfare of
animals committed to my care.”
Doctors swear something not
dissimilar in the form of the
Hippocratic oath.

Such oaths should be all that is
required for us to keep ourselves and
our colleagues up to the task. Perhaps
annual self-reflection and reaffirmation
of such an oath could replace much of
the paperwork that otherwise occupies
us all.

The same requirement to behave
professionally and with integrity applies
equally to those people who are
engaged with making dodgy burgers,
lasagnes, and Bologneses. They need
to rethink their supply chains and
manufacturing processes and open
their eyes to what is really going on
and not rely on the paperwork to
protect them and us.

And as an added precaution, we as
consumers need to recognise that we
get what we pay for. If we want to eat
20p beef burgers, they are not going to
stand up to close scrutiny no matter
what the paperwork says.

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