In the last two weeks or so, consumers of meat and meat related products in about 16 European countries have had to stomach (no pun intended) the fact that top end products like Today’s Special Frozen Beef Lasagne, Today’s Special Frozen Spaghetti Bolognese, Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognese and Beef Bolognese Sauce they had been enjoying was actually nothing more than plain old horsemeat.
The saga began in January when the Food Safety Authority of Ireland found that 10 out of 27 hamburger products it analyzed in a study contained horse DNA, while 23 of them tested positive for pig DNA. It has now grown to become one of the biggest international fraud cases in recent times. In one sample from Tesco – Britain’s largest grocery chain – horsemeat accounted for about 29% of the burger and up 100 percent in other ‘beef’ products.
Consuming horsemeat is not a health hazard, though it could contain a veterinary drug unsafe for humans. In reality, the risks are negligible – which has prompted the question: in a world beset by hunger and poverty, how many people actually have any kind of meat on their menus, not to talk of horsemeat? As a matter of fact, anything related to meat – including the bones and offal would be gladly accepted and thrown into the cooking pot to improve culinary flavour in many parts of the world.
Britain’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) suspects “gross negligence or deliberate contamination”, and early reports indicate that some slaughterhouses in Romania, one of Europe’s poorer countries had been exporting horsemeat to processing companies in Luxemburg and France which then sold them off to supermarkets as beef. One of the leading meat processing companies in France, Spangero is accused of ‘mislabeling’ as much as 750 tons of horsemeat as beef.
Since there is nothing medically wrong with eating horsemeat, the scandal in Europe is not a health scare, but a legal issue: wrongly labeling products is fraudulent, and unethical: Maybe, Nigerians didn’t invent 419 after all. Incidentally, in Ezamgbo in Ebonyi state, there is a market that deals specifically in donkey meat and about 200 donkeys are slaughtered every day; at least buyers know what they are paying for and can actually drag home a live donkey – for the avoidance of doubt!
But beyond the legal and moral issues of horsemeat being labeled as beef, has it really dawned on Europe that the world is changing? Have Europeans realized the full import of the continent’s economic decline and the fact that they should be getting used to eating horsemeat, or any kind of meat, for that matter? Indeed, there are millions of people across Europe – including highly educated and skilled people – who have become scavengers. For them, horsemeat – or any kind of meat would be welcome. For a continent that has millions of hungry, destitute and homeless people, the complaints about horsemeat seem not only stuck-up, but out of tune with reality.
And what is that reality? Hundreds of people recently froze to death on the streets of Europe. The euro zone economic crisis has thrown tens of millions of Europeans out of jobs and into the claws of poverty. Shocking stories of hunger and destitution that were more likely to be reported from Africa now come out of Europe daily with seemingly no end in sight. Many economic migrants to Europe are now returning home in droves.
While Europe’s declining fortunes may be masqueraded as the result of flawed political and economic processes, the truth is that Europe has lost its competitive advantage in several spheres where it used to lead the world: Faced with real competition in a fast evolving global landscape, Europe is crumbling.
Unfortunately for Europeans, things may not improve soon; the level of public debts are simply too high. Much attention has been focused on Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain (an acronym derisively referred to as PIGS) but the contagion is spreading. Today, public debt in Britain is about $2 trillion and still growing despite huge cuts in spending; Italy and France are tottering; Europe’s economy is shrinking and no jobs are being created. How long Germany would continue to shoulder the weight of the entire continent is uncertain.
Some analysts believe that the decline in European economic and political power may be deeper than Europe would admit because its prosperity was hinged principally on agriculture, manufacturing, trading and services. Today, those areas of comparative advantage are largely gone; without state subsidies, European agriculture is not competitive.
Similarly, a significant percentage of finished goods – including those on the shelves of Europe – are made in China. The services sector like international finance – on which Britain is banking its hopes, is increasingly moving from London to Dubai, Hong Kong and Shanghai. India produces more software engineers than Europe, which has nearly 50 percent youth unemployment in some countries.
Ultimately, while Europeans may be within their rights to beef about horsemeat, Europe’s economic climate seems to be telling a different story: better get used to eating horsemeat, or worse.