'I'm as open minded as the next fellow, says George Hook, 'but horses for courses? Neigh.'

01/03/13 at 09:08 AM | 0 Comments

A horse is a horse, of course, of course,

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And no one can talk to a horse of course,

That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mr. Ed.

And what would old Mr. Ed say now, then? How would he get his chops around this

particular beef? I imagine he'd be pretty horrified. All that time invested in human relations, only to discover that his carcass is destined for the chopping block. The lasagne chopping block, no less. What a kick in his considerable teeth.

Except, this should not be. A horse is just that; a horse! Fit for galloping and jumping. Racing even. But not as a course. Not first, second or third. And certainly not one fit for any of my dinner table activities, I can tell you. I'm as open minded as the next fellow, but horses for courses?  Neigh, I say.

The Irish food industry must be pretty relieved. The problem is not just here. At last count, there have been traces of horse meat discovered hidden in food in over 20 European countries across the continent. What started as a blight on the Irish agricultural industry has quickly become the catalyst for a horse meat epidemic. We are not alone, it seems.

If anything, this disturbs me more. A problem is controllable if it is contained. If a source of malpractice is located and confined to it's origin, the issue is easily resolved. But if most of Europe is partaking in this secret equestrian buffet, what are we to do?

I was sitting in a restaurant in Paris recently when our waiter sidled over to read the specials.  'And finally Monsieur', he said. 'I can personally recommended the entrecôte! It's a great price and on special offer. C'est formidable'!

Three months ago I would have grabbed him by his little black dickie bow and said 'Bring it on, my good man! Rare as a ducks behind'! But not this time. 'A beef steak for €12'? I thought to myself. 'In the middle of Paris? Something doesn't smell right to me'. I ordered the fish.

The ripples are growing fast. Sales in frozen meal products are down across the board.  Companies specialising in pre-prepared food are struggling to survive as customers shun the pre-packed dishes in favour of their local butchers. Ah ha! We might just salvage a jewel from this wreckage, after all.

If consumers decide to ditch their fast wood ways in favour of sourcing fresh, local meat, I'm all in favour. The demands of working families are strenuous and time consuming, but if it takes a few horse burgers to make us all realise the importance of proper nutrition and home cooked meals, then all the better.

The price argument is null and void. Walk into any local butcher today and look at the value to be had. There are deals everywhere on the finest of fresh ingredients. You can buy chicken fillets, beef steaks and pork chops that would last a week. The more you buy, the more you save. And if you can't use it there and then? Freeze it! At the very least you'll know the stuff coming out of your freezer didn't fall at the first fence in Navan last weekend.

The big move has already started and while the support of fresh produce is to be celebrated, we must continue to guard against future contamination. The food and agricultural industry in Ireland is dependent on its reputation and good name. One bad lot could spoil the entire crop.

In that sense, Ireland has escaped relatively unharmed from the horse meat fiasco. Misery loves company but it also dilutes responsibility. As a result, Ireland should come through this unfortunate business relatively unscathed. And it's a good thing too. Irish cattle and Irish beef are among the finest in the world. I like horses, too, but I couldn't eat a whole one. Though chances are, I probably already have.

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