Thursday, 7 March 2013


As a people, we have conflicting views on animals. We divide them up into vermin, pets or food. They're pests, best friends, or meat to be consumed. We like our wildlife to be approachable and cuddly, and want to get rid of any insect, bird or mammal that encroaches on human territory. Or worse, we pillage their food for our own selfish purposes. I don't have a problem with people eating meat, but I do have a problem with this attitude. I don't understand how we as humans can pick and choose. How can we pet some animals and mistreat others, often for no reason? How can we wolf down the meat from some, but be repulsed at the thought of eating others? Why doesn't the human race understand that the natural world is essential to their survival?
Badgers and foxes must be culled; krill must be exploited; and sustainable palm oil must be promoted. We trawl sea beds and cut rainforests down. We take more than we put back, thus destroying natural habitats, but do we care? We believe we do, but we don't always demonstrate this attitude. Ignorance is bliss and suppliers have cottoned on to this. We readily accept what we're told, as then we can't be held responsible and it's easier than digging for the truth. Granted, consumers could not have known about the horse meat in their bolognese and they should be allowed to decide what to buy by making an informed decision. The fact that the meat might have been contaminated was concerning, but no more than other drugs used in animal feed. Essentially, this is a supply chain and labelling issue. If you like eating meat, then meat is meat isn't it? A horse is no different than reindeer, ostrich, or kangaroo. Eating meat is not wrong if you realise it's hypocritical to refuse to eat the flesh of one if you're happy to eat others. Personally, I'd rather you knew exactly what animal you were tucking into and how it came to be butchered. Instead we take away the name it's known by, its physical shape and face; it becomes a cut or a lump of mince.
The horse meat scandal is fraudulence on an grandiose scale and a European Public Relations disaster, but I don't wish vegetarianism to benefit from this. Many veggies and vegans will disagree and believe this is the perfect opportunity to 'convert' people to vegetarianism. Perhaps it is, but it won't be long-term, it will out of concern for food safety. Consumers will be persuaded to switch to other alternatives like Quorn, chicken, fish or lamb. It will change how we shop, but it won't be about the welfare of animals.
Does this matter? Many vegetarians would argue 'No', as new members means more benefits to animals, health and the environment, but I feel differently. I dislike backlashes to news as they're short-lived and not thought through. I've only seen one programme that highlighted the conditions horses are slaughtered in and for me that takes priority. The footage was distressing, yet 'Dispatches' were correct in showing it. If horse meat is 'normalised', we're basically saying this practice is okay.
This food scare won't be the last, more will follow, and who's to say the next won't directly affect vegetarians. It may seem unlikely, but is it? Because at the core of most scares is processed foods and switching to other brands won't make food any safer. As consumers, we think we're at the end of the chain, but we're the first link in it.