An obsession with cheap food distorts the structure of the food industry. There should be more policing and heavier penalties
Because it offers so many opportunities for cheating, buying food requires a basic act of trust. There have been laws protecting food standards since Magna Carta first prescribed weights and measures for grain and wine. Yet food fraud has never gone away; and food crime, defined as deliberately acting against the public interest, is thought to cost the British food industry £11bn a year.
In Victorian times, adulterated flour led to malnutrition. Now it might be honey sweetened with corn syrup. Recently, it has been a great deal worse: barely a fortnight ago, two men were sent to prison for their part in a conspiracy to bulk out minced beef with horsemeat in a conspiracy that stretched across Europe, from Ireland to Poland and Spain to British supermarkets’ cut-price burger offers. This week, millions of eggs and egg products have been withdrawn from sale across Europe and as far afield as Hong Kong for fear that they may have been contaminated with a banned pesticide. The everyday saga of your lunchtime egg mayo sandwich suddenly becomes a cautionary tale of greed, squeezed suppliers, lax regulation and underfunded safeguarding.