Horse meat scandal: just part of a far wider problem

Posted on the 11th February 2013

First, there were widespread expressions of revulsion that the ‘cherished’ horse was ending up in beef burgers, but national newspapers were soon running jokes on the subject. Then came the neurotic self-interest and the blaming of foreigners and the ‘mafia’.

This scandal is one more manifestation of the commodification of farmed animals – their mass production, transportation, slaughter, processing, packaging and distribution across a global market, as if they were unfeeling objects. The result is immense animal suffering as well as enfeebled and disease-prone animals. But consumers also risk their own health when they eat the products of this vicious trade.

Every time a food-related panic hits the headlines – whether it’s salmonella, campylobacter, bird flu, swine flu or E Coli – we want ‘the authorities’ to punish someone and fix it. Some political manoeuvring might quieten the mood for a while but a new panic will soon be with us. One that’s currently brewing is Schmallenberg, the tick-borne sheep disease that results in terrible malformations in the newborn animals; and might yet be shown to affect people, too. It is caused by sheep foetuses being exposed to ticks at the height of the summer when the mothers would never normally be pregnant, but are made so in order to get ‘spring lambs’ on the dinner table in the dead of winter. Another manifestation of greed!

Manufacturing and trading in animals as though they are mere objects, morally corrupts the culture that sanctions it. In addition, we will suffer escalating human health and environmental problems. Consumers resorting to local and so-called ‘high welfare’ animal sources does not solve the problems. They will persist for so long as animals are traded as mere commodities.

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