Monday, April 26, 2010

The Susan Boyles of the Sea finally have their moment

Did a report on RTE radio’s Countrywide programme last weekend on factory farming and the labelling of Irish and non-Irish food. It’s such a tricky area. Basically we all want to know our food is safe and that it’s produced under decent standards. And if we’re really interested in food, we also want to know where it’s coming from. Organic free range chicken sold at an Irish farmers market versus Chinese mega chicken unit with 50,000 birds. Which would you choose?

The problem is that Country of Origin labelling does not exist in the EU, although this may be soon about to change. In EU speak there is currently a “re-cast” of labelling laws taking place, which may bring in Country of Providence onto the label. This is a great development and means that we can get a bit more clarity as opposed to the present fog of imports and misnamed product. It's particularly relevant with chicken as four million chicken fillets are imported into this country every week, mainly from Thailand and Brazil. In fact at food service level in Ireland - which is restaurants, work canteens, sandwich bars and garages (don’t dare to pretend you don’t garage graze), imported chicken accounts for 95% of what is sold. Apparently we're mad for chicken, but we probably wouldn't be that mad about it if we knew where much of it is coming from.

It was good timing that we discussed food labelling on the programme as two days before, UCD released the shocking results of tests they did on fish sold in Ireland – showing that 25% of the fish they bought (from fish mongers, supermarkets and fish and chip shops) was not what it said on the label. Most of the chicanery here is going on with cod. It seems that currently in Ireland there is everything under the sun being passed off as cod. Things you never heard of; the Susan Boyles of the fish world – Pollack, Saithe, Greater Argentine – are finally having their moment. Pollack, okay that's not so bad, but Greater Argentine? Is that something to do with The Falklands? I spoke to Professor Alan Reilly from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland whose sorry task it is to investigate this matter. He reminded me that food adulteration, or in this case, food substitution is one of the oldest tricks in the book, it's been going on since we began to trade food, or to be more correct, trade rotten meat with the edges cut off to some poor sucker. The FSAI are going to have a lot of digging to do on this one so watch this space. The hilarious thing is, no one noticed that what they were eating wasn't cod. Doesn't say a lot for us consumers does it?

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