What precisely are we eating?

Is the recent news about burgers sold by national supermarket and fast food chains containing horse meat really a surprise? Perhaps the horse meat is a surprise, but I’m not surprised that the actual content does not always match the description on the label. The vast scale of industrialised food makes it very difficult to validate labelling and monitor quality, especially when many of these retailers put price above all else.

Before moving to Devon, we lost an excellent butcher when supermarkets cornered the local market. Inevitably, we started buying meat from supermarkets, but even then we saw joints of beef unwrapped from boxes and shrink-wrapping, sometimes butchered in another country.

For our Sunday morning breakfast today, we ate bacon purchased from Mike Turton’s Butchers in Ilfracombe High Street, which was supplied by the Cornish Farmhouse Bacon Company in Holsworthy, which breeds and rears its pigs, and processes them to the final stage on the same farm, including curing, smoking, cooking and pre packing. It was delicious and we know where it came from.

Apart from the superb quality of meat we eat, one of the main benefits of shopping at a local butcher is being able to know what we are eating. We see burgers and sausages being made in the shop. We see meat minced from a joint and cuts butchered from a carcass in front of us.

It’s a long while since I’ve been wholly confident of mass market food labelling. I’m going to be even more wary of it now.

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