Chevalgate: Ever Seen Fish That Eat Pig?

Meat manufactured like a motorcar, farmed fish fed on pig — Chevalgate has provoked an outpouring of worried reportage in France that in turn ought to set alarm bells clanging for food consumers.

Artistamp depicting the scourge of Mad Cow disease when it was destroying British livestock in the mid-1980s. (Credit: Wikipedia)

Not only are cheap processed ‘meat’ meals now suspect, attempts to trace the origins of simple beefsteaks in a local supermarket raised one reporter’s concerns; while accounts also emerged of dubious practises within some ‘meat’ processing plants in France. Coupled with this the European Commission, which took over powers to make food law from member state governments in 2002, is set to authorise use in the food chain once more of animal meal – earlier linked to BSE and mad cow disease. And then there’s Jamie Oliver’s video on Pink Slime!

‘Suicidal’ was how Euro MP José Bové the EELV (Greens) deputy described the news of a decision by the European Commission, announced January 14, to allow animal meal (basically poultry and pigs) to be used as feed for farmed fish from June 1 this year. “Did you ever see fish eat pig,” he asked, according to a report in L’Express: “Lifting the ban is suicidal because the cheapness of animal meal will soon see the practice spread widely […]”

He said the ban on allowing poultry and pork meal to be used to feed other animals and fish was introduced after the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease scandal in the 198os was traced to this ‘cannibalisation’ in the food chain. (More than 450,000 BSE-infected animals had entered the human food chain before controls on high-risk offal were introduced in 1989. A British and Irish inquiry into BSE concluded the epizootic was was caused by cattle, which are normally herbivores, being fed the remains of other cattle in the form of meat and bone meal (MBM), which caused the infectious agent to spread).

His criticisms were backed and reinforced by another MEP and lawyer, Corinne Lepage,  former Environment minister in Alain Juppé’s 1995 cabinet and chair of CAP21- Citoyenneté Action Participation pour le XXIe siècle.

French MEP Corinne le Page warns of repeating earlier errors on food security in the European Union

In an article for Rue 89 published February 11 she wrote: “Findus is not an accident but the result of a conscious decision to opt for food insecurity. The latest scandal is the umpteenth and follows many others. Some 20 years ago the BSE crisis proved a turning point for Europe in terms of food safety issues, and saw the creation of the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) … The Findus case (however) proves that we still do not have the capacity to guarantee the traceability of meat for human consumption, and far less so the tracing of the origins and use of animal meal in the food chain … The Findus case is only the tip of the iceberg that sees us consistently making choices to the detriment of the consumer and to the short term advantage of industrial interests. The solution is simple: end choices that favour food insecurity; stop issuing multiple regulations that are never implemented, such as the alleged origin of products labelling — which is voluntary; stop taking health risks to please the WTO- World Trade Organisation; stop sacrificing food safety on the altar of cuts in government spending; have a criminal justice system that is worthy of the name, where judges fearlessly hear and try cases involving public health and environmental scares and end impunity for those responsible for past, present and future health scandals.”

According to one news report the European Commission plan under its TSE Roadmap 2 — which deals with animal meal reintroduction — awaits fresh scientific advice from the European Food Safety Authority on a tolerable level of animal proteins in feed. The EC said it might then be possible to feed MBM from non-ruminants such as pigs and poultry to other non-ruminants. “Considering that the transmission risk of BSE from non-ruminants to non-ruminants is very unlikely, a lifting of the ban on the use of PAP-Processed Animal Protein from non-ruminants in non-ruminant feed could be considered, but without lifting the existing prohibition on interspecies recycling (poultry MBM could only be fed to pigs and pig MBM to poultry),” the EC said. The reasons for this change of heart appear to be purely economic: “the reintroduction … would reduce the EU’s dependence on other sources of proteins. Foreign-grown Soya and other crops used in animal feed are in high demand globally and their price is volatile”. (See the initial Polish proposal here. For more on PAP and MBM see this EFPRA site run by PAP producers , an organisation that represents PAP producers in Europe. For more on European food safety try here.)

Watch Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution: Pink Slime video:

France’s Novopress agency reported: “The authorisation to use animal meal for fish farming heralds the first step in a wider reintroduction of MBM in industrial livestock circuits. Indeed, the Commission “intends to propose an alternative measure to reintroduce the use of PAP- MBM – pork and poultry to poultry and pigs; only cannibalism within the same species is prohibited. The reintroduction of animal meal will improve long-term sustainability of the aquaculture sector, as animal meal offers a substitute for fishmeal, which is a scarce resource,” the Commission said in a press release.

Sophie Caillat a journalist at Rue 89 reminded her readers of “Bidoche“, a book by Fabrice Nicolino published in 2009: 
This dealt with “the ravages caused by the industrialization of meat”. She interviewed the author Fabrice Nicolino who tells her:  “… we have lost control of the system as  ‘Findusgate’ proves. Logically it should trigger more consumer concern about eating meat slurry, which in earlier times we were not even allowed to use in making cat food. Coming after so many other food crisis this shows that the industrialised meat system is at an end. Nobody has any further confidence in it, but no-one in authority has the courage finally to admit that the king has no clothes.”

One of the issues is what the French call Minerai de viande, mechanically separated meat/mechanically recovered meat (MRM) or slurry in the trade — known as Pink Slime in Canada — and which has long been the building block for much of the cheap, processed ready-made frozen foodstuff masquerading as ‘beef burgers’ or ‘beef lasagne’ in your neighbourhood supermarket.

“Meat” dishes prepared with Minerai de viande are comprised basically of “bits of things, especially fat, basically waste which 40 years ago, was turned into rendering and burned,” says one meat expert quoted in the Rue 89 report above.

Indeed this minerai has such a poor reputation that according to the BBC it was replaced by de-sinewed meat (DSM) in the UK in the 1990s: “Sometimes called ‘pink slime’, MRM was formed by removing residual meat from animal bones using high pressure water. It had been linked to the spread of the human form of mad cow disease… DSM was developed as a higher quality form of recovered meat. It was produced using low pressure, retained some structure and was regarded as a meat ingredient on value products. But in April last year, the European Commission told the FSA that it no longer regarded DSM as a form of meat and it would have to reclassify it as MRM, which meant it could no longer be used in low-cost meat items”.

“Findusgate” as some French media call it, prompted Claire Branchereau another Rue 89 reporter to set off on a hunt for the origins of a beefsteak she purchased at her local store — C’est l’histoire d’un steak : “In principle, the birthplace of the animal and its place of slaughter must all be specified unless they are identical. My label said ‘Origin France, raised in France.’ However when I phoned the supermarket’s customer service department the conversation went like this: ‘So you cannot tell me exactly where my steak was born, even with this mass of bar codes and numbers on the label?’ After a bit more research I thought I might have found that my steak was born and raised on a farm I found in the Jura. But no, according to two farmers I spoke to, that was unlikely. Industrial minced burgers like the one I had bought ‘usually come from cows that have been overused or even from bulls … usually it is old cows, worn out animals that are at an end of their productive lives that are used…”. So at least my burger is bovine — beef, cow or bull but clearly not from the Jura. Only once the animal is sold to the slaughterhouse do the links in the supply chain up to the point of consumer purchase become clearly identified. Philippe, a cattle butcher in eastern France tells me, my supermarket steak was processed by a facility similar to his. ‘In smaller slaughterhouses, there are two veterinary checks before and after death, then the meat is cut and stamped in edible ink and put in cold storage.’ In the minced steak processing plant attached to this slaughterhouse several other links in the chain are completed after slaughtering and cutting. These include manufacturing and even packaging. The minced burgers themselves are developed in terms of these specifications, and this is where the famous minerai comes in. But my mention of minerai does not fluster Philippe, who says he uses “pure”, not mixed minerai: “When we debone a piece of meat, there are always bits that are not presentable, these are crushed and mixed into the minced burger: this is the minerai we use.’ ” However according to the website  (which belongs to the food group Terrena ), the minerai is also made of “the muscles from the forequarters of the animal.”

More shocking perhaps was Rue 89’s report from an anonymous contributor and former temporary worker at a meat processing factory. He graphically describes the procedures he followed while working at an identified (but not disclosed in the report) French processing plant.

The writer, whose identity is protected by the paper, describes his experiences thus: “I worked in a  ‘meat processing’ plant, and I am disgusted. In this factory, we transformed cheap meat cuts quite literally into crap. The recipe was simple: we received pallets of frozen cheap cuts from industrial slaughterhouses owned by well-known brands, which we then subjected to a fast thawing process — boiling water under pressure. We then added in some 30 and 40% by weight of fat, pulmonary tissue, other cartilage and collagens. This produced a large quantity of pureed meat which we packed into 10 kg containers and returned to the freezer — for yes despite what people tell you, you can refreeze meat several times over …. Finally, there was one time when a shipment of obviously damaged product arrived (the meat was purple, green, yellow and stank, even though it was deep frozen). The boss told us to sort it and to ensure that we kept at least 40% of the total! This sorted meat was then mixed in with healthy meat and voila no-one was any the wiser. Nowadays I only eat meat from my local butcher. Needless to say the only mince I eat, is that the butcher minces in his machine before my own eyes.”

The French government took swift action against what it regards as the main suspect in the horsemeat-for-beef affair by removing the meat processing license held by Spanghero whose plant employs more than 300 people in Castelnaudary, a town famous for its cassoulet . It also ordered a team of inspectors to investigate the whole affair at the plant. Its report is due in a week. However this reaction ignores one significant factor — European governments no longer control food laws as these are now a supranational affair..

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points Flowchart (Credit: Wikipedia)

Christopher Booker pointed this out in an article for the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper: “A decade ago, the EU took over all ‘competence’ to make food law from national governments. It promptly introduced a new set of rules across Europe, to replace the old dependence on regular inspection and testing of foodstuffs with a radical new system. The EU’s version of what is known as HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) is based on a trail of paper, whereby any food product, as it passes along the chain from one firm to another, must be accompanied by a piece of paper certifying its nature and contents. This system, set up under EU regulation 178/2002, was to be administered by a new European Food Safety Authority, represented in each country by “independent” national food safety agencies…. But the regulation also laid down that ultimate responsibility for the reliability of food sold to the public was placed on the “food operators” at every step along the chain, culminating in those retailers who sell food to the public…. this new system was (thus) wide open to fraud. Everyone along the chain was expected under the rules to trust the paperwork passed on to them. But it only needed one firm to insert false information into the paper trail and the reliability of the system would collapse (as we have seen when horse meat correctly labelled on leaving a Romanian slaughterhouse was mis-labelled as beef after being exported to western Europe).”

Some activists blame the World Trade Organisation and “transnational corporations” for the  problems with food traceability and food labelling as Todd Tucker of the US Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch told RT TV’s Thom Hartmann in this recent interview:

So what is the answer? In part it might rest in imitating the rural French. In small towns and villages around France local butchers, bakeries and corner shops get their supplies from a short chain of producers in their area and are happy to tell customers exactly where the products come from. It’s simple traceability because the community all have some connection with the suppliers.

Another might be to take a closer look at the Italian-founded, now world-wide Slow Food movement.

Story: Ken Pottinger

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10 Responses to Chevalgate: Ever Seen Fish That Eat Pig?

  1. Syd Vaughan February 18, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    How do they do it? With a twist of the pen, a fat finger on the keyboard and a sidewards shuffle in those designer trainers, before you know it was our fault the bankers bankrupt the economy, so we had to bail them out. Now because we wanted cheap food our food producers had to contaminate our beef products with horse meat, and even though we paid the going rate for beef it was our fault the supermarkets couldn’t make a profit so that had to employ the mafia for meat. Its just amazing its our fault MPs have to steal our cash on expenses because we don’t pay them enough, our fault that energy bills are so high because we put the heating on, and our fault the economy’s in a mess because the bankers gambled all our cash away and now its our fault there’s horse meat in our beefburgers because we wanted beef.
    S T Vaughan
    Birmingham B14 4EA

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