A concerned co-operator’s fruitless search for clarification

R. found time, in his very busy working life, to write:

co-operative foodAs a member of the coop I received an email on 22nd Feb 2013 from the then Chief Executive, Peter Marks, concerning the issue of horsemeat found in beef products, ie contaminated food. It explained the testing that they had performed and the discovery of a small amount in certain products and named our supplier “Silvercrest Foods” as responsible; they had “de-listed” them.

It went on to say “.. any additional cost will not be passed on to you. We do not expect our customers to pay for this”; which is all very well, but someone has to pay and if customers do not pay then the shareholding membership will.

This irritated me as classic corporate-speak, ie nonsense, and avoided the truth. It was followed by another email when all the testing was complete on 26th Feb 2013. That also said that “testing across all of our food products is to be stepped up”. So there is more cost, but still no clarification on who is paying; and I want to know the truth.

I replied to Peter Mark’s email and asked for clarification in February 2013 (my email received an acknowledgment, so I know it was received) but I never received a reply.

In June I spoke to membership services who had passed my email to the food department, but were not surprised that, after 4 months, I had not received a reply (they have a lot of enquiries). I forwarded a copy of my original email and they assured me I would get a reply – but one month on (late July 2013) I have heard nothing.

I am concerned that the coop is managed by spin doctors who seem to think that what they say in a public statement solves things (it does not, it takes action) and that there are easy answers with no price to pay. The truth is someone has to pay, and there is no hiding from it. Are these the same people who thought they could make money out of nothing at the coop bank, just like other bankers?

For the record, I value good food, accept we have to pay for it and my questions in search of the truth were:

1) You have de-listed Silvercrest, but this is not good enough. If you specified 100% British Beef, and it was not, then they are in breach of contract. What are you doing about this?

2) You say that customers will not pay for the increased testing, so who will? The answer is the shareholders, in other words US – the members (who are also the customers). This email was addressed to the membership, so we WILL be paying for it. All the more reason why I would like an answer to question 1.

In future I would like to see contracts where any failings such as this result in an IMMEDIATE penalty charge that is so punitive that it is a threat to their business. This is the only way a profit-making business can balance the “cost” of doing things properly.

3) There has been far too much attention paid to the “wrong meat” being in beef. This has several issues, for example I would not choose to eat horse meat, but I’ve seen it openly on sale in France. However I do like venison and would probably feel differently if that had got into the beef products (venison is more expensive and they are less likely to use it as a cost-cutting measure).

The wider issue that EVERYONE seems to ignore is who did it, where did the horse meat come from (not where does horse meat for human consumption come from) and what other corners have been cut? This is not an issue of horse vs beef, it is an issue of contaminated food. I believe that the horse meat will include animals that were destined for the knacker-man, ONLY. I do not believe that the horse meat was slaughtered, processed, stored and transported in the conditions that are required for the beef it was supposed to be. This is why it is important that the suppliers are held to account, through the courts to prevent a cover-up.

Where did the food come from and what was really in it?

Since this is EU wide, it is clearly not just a UK problem, and therefore not a UK-only failure. This in turn means we cannot trust other European countries to monitor their local manufacturers.

The solution is to be more patriotic and choose to buy locally produced food wherever possible, with far fewer carbon miles on it. The distance travelled by a low-cost burger is a disgrace in itself. The co-op can help by actively publishing sources and distances travelled on labelling and in store.

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