As we see out the year of 2013 and reflect on what has passed I have decided to highlight some of the hot food topics, debates and trends of this last year with a view to to forecast how things might shape up in 2014.
Horse Meat Scandal
Probably one of the hottest food related topics to hit the press in 2013 was the horse meat food fraud scandal where several large chain retailers of food and fast food chains across Europe were found to have products, mainly processed cheap burgers and ready meals, advertised as beef when in fact it actually contained horse meat, up to 100% in some cases. Once the scandal was out in the open reported tests found that some products marked as beef were found to contain pig DNA also. Big catering suppliers who were indicated in the scandal also supplied food to hospitals, schools and large hotel chains. Raising big questions over the traceability of food supply and standards in processing plants consumers have had their eyes opened. It also came to light that criminals were making a fast buck on our food industry selling on meat unfit for human consumption into the food chain. One such case found 21 people arrested in France in relation to selling on horses which had been used for medical research into the meat industry. While pork and horse meat in itself is not an unsafe food product people obviously reserve the right to know what they are buying and trust that what is written on the packed is what it says it is. Which brings me on to my next point of food labelling.
GMOs & Food Labelling
While the UK remains predominantly GM free in terms of the food on our shelves much of the livestock meant for the meat market are raised on GM feed. Meat products from animals raised on GM feed does not have to be labelled. A worrying thought as studies have shown that GM materials are passed on into the meat, eggs and dairy of animals fed on GM feed. The U.S have far more GM ingredients in their everyday foods much to the disappointment of many consumers. A recent court battle ensued in Washington to have GMO’s labelled on food packaging but unfortunately was lost my a minimal margin. Americans who support the anti-GMO movement are outraged that products containing GMO’s can be labelled up as “natural” and “all natural” while the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) try to convince the the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to make a legal ruling allowing food companies to carry on doing so legally. In the UK products that “intentionally” contain GM ingredients must be labelled as such although there is a tolerance for up to 0.9% presence of accidental authorised GMO’s per ingredient and up to 0.5% for non-authorised GMO’s . Quite a scary thought. And there is pressure within the UK government from Owen Patterson to embrace more GMO’s into the food chain. As a consumer currently the only way to know for sure that you are buying non GM contaminated products is to buy organic and soil association approved who specify a tolerance for 0.1% presence of GMO materials. If you would like to know more about Genetic Modification in food and it’s potential health hazards check out this article from Global Research and to find out why the Soil Association campaign against the use of GM ingredients in human and animal food check out this article here.
Superbugs & Antibiotics
Over the last decade entirely new E.coli and MRSA superbugs have become major problems on European farms due to the overuse of antibiotics. Warnings were issued over 50 years ago when intensive farming took America by storm and the routine use of antibiotics were issued to animals to help speed growth and combat disease in the cramped and unsanitary conditions. By 1967, 168 tonnes were being injected or fed to animals in the UK. Today nearly all UK broilers and many pigs are given these drugs to feed Britain’s appetite for cheap meat. Hundreds of scientific studies have confirmed the link between antibiotic misuse in food animals and superbug infections in humans. The CDC concurred: “Much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.” Although the industry has been largely resilient to making changes finally the FDA has taken steps to phase out the use of some antibiotics in animals processed for meat in the U.S. Europe moved a little faster with bans introduced on AGP’s in 2006 while many UK poultry and swine producers made the move to phase out their use prior to the ban being introduced. Grampian Country Food Group, followed by Marks and Spenser announced in 1999 to phase out growth antibiotic use in it’s broiler chickens. Further bans were introduced this year by the European Union leaving two available to the poultry industry and an Early Day Motion has been put forward to the UK Parliament by Zac Goldsmith MP, calling for a reduction in the use of antibiotics in farming. Sweden and Denmark have also implemented additional bans and phasing out of routine antibiotic uses.
In the words of Richard Young, of the Soil Association; “Society has got to ask whether it can afford to eat cheap meat any longer. Some small increase in the cost of meat has got to be cheaper than people dying.”
Prediction for 2014
In light of all that has taken place this year in the food industry I do believe people are sitting up and starting to take notice of where their food comes from and question what is contained in it. There has almost certainly been trust lost between consumers and food producers and consumers are demanding greater transparency and clarity when it comes to food traceability and food labelling. I envisage quite a few battles to come on this front if the government decides to introduce more GM products into the market.
I do believe that in general most people want a food system that is sustainable, environmentally friendly and ethical. While currently many households feel they can’t afford it, those that can are making different choices and I expect to see a rise in 2014 as we climb out of the recession.
Despite there being a downturn overall in the organic market which is most likely due to the difficult economic climate the UK has been experiencing, market research shows that the outlook for the organic market is indeed positive. For more information on organic market reports click here.
Additionally there has been a rise in local farmers markets across the country with people keen to support local farmers and British produce. Many restaurants have been focusing on using sustainable, free range, seasonal and organic produce also.
One country of remarkable notoriety is Bhutan, who have declared themselves as the world’s first wholly organic country. Now that is something to work towards.