The horsemeat scandal has shone a bright light into a hitherto murky area of food supply – how meat actually gets from the abattoir to our plate. The complicated and convoluted logistics process behind the processed foods industry mean no one can be too sure where the meat in their pies, burgers and ready meals originated. Nor now that it is actually what it purports to be. Beef? Lamb? Horse? Who knows!
Up to now, Swiss retailers were confident they were immune. But is this confidence misplaced? There are warning signs. The Coop, Switzerland’s second-biggest supermarket group, has found traces of horse in some of its lasagna, produced by the French company Comigel – which also provided beef lasagna to Findus UK.
The few companies that still believe they’re immune are saying so – thus, yesterday, I received an email alerting me that Findus products sold in Switzerland by Coop’s rival Migros use only Swiss beef – because Findus Switzerland, unlike the rest of the brand, still belongs to Nestle.
Nestle owned all of Findus until 2000 when it sold most of the business to a private equity firm.
This all sounds reassuring. But some of the claims of provenance made for Swiss food are questionable. Take veal, a much-eaten dish in Switzerland (as is horse, by the way). I have yet to see any restaurant or food outlet disclosing Britain as a source of their veal supplies. Food outlets always display the source of their meat as a matter of pride.
If, as it seems, most or nearly all the veal bought and sold in Switzerland comes from within the country, what then happens to the lorry loads of live calves that arrive on the Franco-Swiss border outside Geneva from Britain every week?
I followed a trail of such lorries on the motorway all the way from a cross-channel ferry in Calais. Food labelling law being what it is, if you slaughter the animals in a different country and process and package it there, it magically becomes the product of that country, irrespective of where it was bred and reared.
The Swiss don’t believe they eat British beef products. Indeed, most would not buy veal they thought was British. Memories are long and few have forgotten the BSE or Mad Cow Disease epidemic, widely seen as a uniquely British problem caused by feeding ground up and infectious meat and bone meal to normally herbivorous cattle
But the question is this: are we really expected to believe the food industry transports calves all the way from the UK to Switzerland for slaughter and processing and then sends all their meat straight back out of the country for consumption elsewhere?