Why it’s odds on no-one will take the rap for the ‘Horseburger Handicap’ scandal

Pardon the pun, but there’s an unsavoury irony about the skeleton of a monarch, who offered his kingdom for a horse, turning up at a time when equines are practically leaping from supermarket shelves round the corner from the Leicester car park where he was buried.

Not that today’s steeds would have done Richard III an iota of good; certainly not unsaddled and repackaged as ‘beef’ burgers or meatballs.

However, despite my email inbox full of sicko Shergar gags, tempting though it is to indulge in gallows humour, there’s no escaping the sombre truth that we, the public, have been duped. Because, what many trusted purveyors of meat sold us was sometimes little short of minced gee-gee.

The revelations, which surfaced in Ireland a couple of months ago and have since gone viral throughout the EU, lead us to several unwholesome conclusions, principally that we can’t trust the Goliaths of the retail trade, they can’t trust their suppliers and nobody can trust politicians, empowered to police the food industry, but who can’t tell a fillet mignon from a fetlock.

Meanwhile, there’s a blame-game emerging, where everyone involved is passing the buck (again, pardon the pun) to anyone within receiving range of potential liability.

Fending off allegations his department was ‘asleep at the wheel’ (or reins?), Britain’s food minister, Owen Paterson, who prefers riding horses to eating them, blames the EU and the food industry for not doing enough random testing

Meanwhile, supermarket apologists were quick to finger a chain of enigmatic middlemen, dodgy abattoirs in Rumania and an iffy processing plant in France.

Iceland Group boss, Malcolm Walker, though, insists local authorities are the real culprits for foisting cut-price sustenance on schools, hospitals and prisons, leading me to suspect meals-on-wheels is now more akin to having a flutter on the great ‘horseburger handicap’.

The frozen foods tycoon says he wouldn’t eat economy or ‘value’ brands. But with his company registering profits of over £200M last year, Walker can afford the occasional prime cut for Sunday lunch, whereas innumerable families struggling to fill their kiddies’ bellies don’t have that luxury.

Out of necessity, they have to rely on supermarket ‘white’ or ‘own-label’ products. Nonetheless, they don’t deserve to be deceived – even unwittingly – by companies raking in fortunes, who can’t be bothered to find out what really lurks within the contents on their own shelves.

This brouhaha, however, isn’t about horses per se, although it appears a ready-meal lasagne or ‘spag bol’ is just as likely to have been sired by Hi-Ho-Silver as an Aberdeen Angus. So heaven only knows how many Little Bo-Peeps go into a shepherd’s pie.

No, it’s about labelling. Because, unlike a certain brand of wood preservative – which brags its does exactly what it says on the tin – there’s absolutely no guarantee a packet of foodstuffs in a hypermarket chiller isn’t contaminated by something that might have run at Epsom.

GEE WHIZ! How the UK's Sun newspaper saw the horsemeat scandal

GEE-GEE WHIZ! How the UK’s Sun newspaper lampooned the horsemeat scandal

Frankly, I’m gobsmacked at how circuitous, furtive and opaque our food chain actually is and how a dead horse can travel half way round Europe, passing through countless hands, before it’s magically transformed into a cow. Even Paul Daniels would be hard pressed to pull off that trick.

So what most of us would like to know is: why, with all their mega-billions, haven’t the big name brands (like Findus) and the supa-dupa markets, which have destroyed the local high street, done more in-house product testing? And why did the UK government’s Food Standards Agency dispense with the services of 600 inspectors and cede control of what we eat to Brussels, where the odd slice of horsemeat is considered yummy?

Moreover, broader questions cry out to be answered…like why are we forever at the mercy of grubby, greedy big business battalions and where are the consumer watchdogs we deserve?

All but a gilded, filthy rich few have already been scalped by the banks over sub-prime mortgages, LIBOR rate-fixing, Payment Protection Insurance mis-selling and money laundering that see Mexican drug cartel cash funnelled into the pockets of jihadi insurgents.

And that’s in tandem with hugely immoral, creative accountancy ‘schemes’ operated by multinational conglomerates (e.g. Starbucks, Google, Amazon), which have driven a horse and carriage – sorry, no pun intended – through individual nations’ tax laws.

Nor does it end there.

Britain’s NHS – the keystone of a caring, sharing, civilised society – is crumbling under a welter of inane red tape and gross mismanagement, exemplified by scandalously high mortality rates at Mid-Staffordshire Hospital.

Meanwhile, over the wider Eurozone horizon, austerity is the only game in the Club Med town, driving up consumer costs, choking growth and casting an entire generation of kids on the scrapheap of unemployment.

No wonder people of my generation, who worked hard, tried to invest sensibly in a minefield of evermore complex products, strived to educate our children and imagined we’d secured a modestly comfy retirement, feel robbed and so utterly let down.

What irks most is how too many big businesses fudge transparency to the extent we punters can only conclude boardrooms reckon a profitable end apparently justifies any devious means.

And, like the glib, fork-tongued politicos of all hues, no-one is condemned to stand accountable for their excesses and, when the excrement hits the fan, they retreat into blame-game autopilot.

It’s never us, they insist behind masks of righteous indignation cloaked in crocodile tears, as they trouser yet another bumper bonus.

And, as always, hollow promises of ‘lessons will be learned’ are parroted. Only they never are, as – like a line of empty buses, tail to tail – yet another scandal inexorably follows in the wake of a still raging one.

Which is why it’s my gut instinct the horsemeat travesty will be put out to grass and consigned to the knacker’s yard of history.

Of course, supermarket CEOs will vouchsafe to rid themselves of weak, bent links in the food chain and politicians will announce a tsunami of crackdowns to right the wrongs they’ll never admit to making.

But sure as eggs are eggs – and not infested with salmonella – the next scandal, scam or rip-off is just round the proverbial corner.

And, once again, don’t expect any heads to roll. Because those responsible will deny any culpability or accountability for it ever happening.

You can bet your shirt or horseburger on that.

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