La viande de cheval découverte dans de nombreux plats cuisinées a provoqué un gigantesque scandale en Grande-Bretagne. Pendant plusieurs semaines, ce scandale a dominé l’actualité… parce que, l’hippophagie (le fait de manger du cheval) y est encore plus tabou qu’ailleurs. Bien que le scandale ne soit pas un scandale sanitaire contrairement à l’encéphalopathie spongiforme bovine (ESB), qui avait tant marqué les esprits dans les années 1990…
In November 1986 the infamous BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) appeared for the first time in the UK. All Britons remember the long “Mad Cow” crisis. Since this event, no food scandal can go unnoticed in Britain.
Let us start with a bit of history…
In 732, Pope Gregory III banned the consumption of horse meat as a pagan practice and an “abomination”.
In the Middle-Ages, horses were regarded as noble and majestic animals and during the UK’s agricultural revolution (in the seventeenth century), they became the single most important moving force.
In the 19th century, horses were still widely-used as animals of labor. But then they started being used for leisure activities, like horse racing, for example. Thus horses became a common feature of the domestic world. British butchers did not sell much horse meat as they did not sell rabbit meat for the same reason.
Since the Victorian era (from 1837 to 1901) horse meat, which was cheaper than beef, has been sold to the poor. As both sources of income and of amusement horses have had a very special place in British people’s hearts. Most Britons cannot imagine eating them. Today eating horse meat is taboo.
The role of private equity is questioned today
Findus was taken over in 2008 by the private equity fund Lion Capital. Since it was purchased, Findus has been in a difficult financial situation and recently received 257.9 million euros to survive. It also underwent a significant restructuring in 2011.
On February 8th Comigel was in the spotlight, the French company that provides the meat to Findus. But nobody remembers that in 2007 Comigel was also bought by a private investment fund, Céréa Capital.
Generally, private equity companies make the companies that they buy more profitable before they sell them at a profit. But they are also known to drown the companies that they buy in huge debt before imposing them draconian cost reduction programs. And this when profitability can rarely go hand in hand with quality.
As Martha Gill said (the writer of the weekly “Irrational Animals” column in the New Statesman magazine): “We need to monitor food chains owned by companies with repurchased firms: it is where the next food scandal will come. “
Ironically, the number of horses slaughtered in Ireland has risen from 822 in 2006 to 7,000 in 2010-11. Moreover ,in the same period four new equine slaughterhouses have been built in the republic…
In spite of millions of euros spent to fight meat adulteration, the new scandals show another weakness of the EU.
As an extreme circumstance requires an extreme reference, as Vladimir Ilitch Oulianov once said : “The trust does not exclude control. “
Can one speak about a crisis of confidence in Europe?
Kevin CORREGGIO & Hicham HINAWI