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Chris Rundle: Bleak times in which action must be demanded over horse meat scandal

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: February 13, 2013

Environment Secretary Paterson has been handling the horsemeat saga

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Good to see Owen Paterson putting some stick about at the weekend as he waded in to take charge of the horse meat affair. But the more the revelations spill out the greater the collateral damage the entire issue is inflicting on the reputation of farmers.

For, like it or not, livestock producers are, in the eyes of pundits and public alike, part of the “meat industry” – which is why commentators are now flinging around references to BSE as they seek to put the current mess into some kind of perspective.

There is little likelihood of any actual damage being done to farmers, though. If anything this issue is going to make consumers very wary of any processed food sold by supermarkets and there are already signs of a quiet stampede of customers through the doors of independent butchers, most of whom they feel they can trust.

Sadly, the one recent exception to the rule was a well-known Somerset butchery chain which was heavily fined for passing off beef from Shropshire as local. But at least it wasn’t horse.

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And if there is any beneficial outcome it could well be that food processors attempt to reassure their customers by halting imports and instead find a home for the tonnes of perfectly good English beef which currently is sold for next to nothing for pet food because no one else wants it.

However another food scare is the last thing the farming industry needs at a time when its fortunes are pretty much at rock-bottom, what with lamb prices on the floor, pig producers still being under threat of undercutting by continental farmers who haven’t yet got round to the job of adopting new higher welfare systems, and the small matter of Schmallenberg.

Bleak? Yes it is a bleak picture – and the public needs to be told so. Unfortunately as far as NFU president Peter Kendall is concerned the truth is the last thing that should be communicated.

Hence the union’s sustained pressure on one of its South West regional office-holders to stop with the gloom and doom. Hence, too, Kendall’s associates relentlessly punting out optimistic statements on the industry’s fortunes.

Transfer the whole, blinkered bunch to the deck of the post-collision Titanic and you would hear them welcoming the fact that there would be no shortage of ice for the gin and tonics that evening.

There are more than 1,200 Schmallenberg outbreaks – worrying signs of the condition having even wider effects than first thought. When is Kendall going to start kicking down Defra’s door demanding full speed ahead with vaccine trials and seeking assurances that the Government is taking this potentially huge threat to livestock farming seriously?

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