The Observer reports tonight on a story which will no doubt run and run (in an equine sense if no other):
Sources close to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Food Standards Agency said it appeared that the contamination of beefurgers, lasagne and other products [with horsemeat] was the result of fraud that had an “international dimension”.
Substitute some of the actors with our friends in the financial services community – even the Financial Services Authority shares the same TLA with the Food Standards Agency – and you’ll see why I’m beginning to get the feeling that horsemeat DNA on a criminal scale bears an uncanny resemblance to Libor fixing on a criminal scale. In both cases, it would seem that insiders have been stuffing outsiders – and the outsiders have been suffering the consequences, generally unknowingly. A mafia is a mafia, however genteel or besuited it may show itself to be. We are, it would appear, in the grip of such mafias.
In fact, to state – as the Observer does in its headline – that the “Horsemeat scandal [is] blamed on international fraud by mafia gangs” is just a tad disingenuous: it may be true, of course, but a) it doesn’t half let the government and the regulatory authorities off the hook of ultimate responsibility and b) it doesn’t half beg the question why whoever’s doing the blaming didn’t realise this any earlier.
The process and sequence of events is exactly the same as that which assailed us during the 2008 credit crunch. All of it essentially down to light-touch regulatory mindsets which believe stupidly in the magical powers of utterly unleashed corporate environments: environments which start out – in our hopeful and ever-optimistic politico-economic models – as virtuous circles of efficient business, only to end up being populated with dysfunctionally greedy individuals, systemic failures no one could have predicted or even – as in this case – Eastern European mafias.
The all-too-predictable result of a hands-off and responsibility-abdicating approach to the business of government and governance.
By trusting the market to run itself, by not inspecting the opportunities for greed and irresponsible behaviours, by believing that organised crime won’t care to get involved in the daily operation of customer choice, these latterday governments of ours are destroying the very integrity of our economic checks and balances.
And that their mentality should argue that customers vote freely with their purchases every day of the blessed week is appalling in the extreme: whilst we cannot take our own personal DNA testers to every prepared meal, and prick them and poke them before every purchase, we are at the mercy of those processes we should surely have every right to trust.
The Independent concludes in the following way its report on the obfuscation currently at play:
‘Bute’ aside, the unlabelled horse may indeed be safe to eat. But that’s not to say that people wanted to eat it, nor, more importantly, that anyone in the food supply system was aware of the existence of what seems to have been a massive undetected fraud.
It was just the presence of an unknown substance – prions that caused BSE (and the ensuing complacency and cover-up) – that led to a collapse in confidence in British farming.
Judging by the events and attitudes of the last few weeks, the lessons have not been learnt.
Not learnt indeed. That is all too clear.
But what’s even more clear to me tonight is that business today, whether white collar or abattoir, needs a massive kick up the backside from about as fearsome and heavy-touch legislative and inspection regimes as we can possibly manage to invent and devise.
If for no other reason than to guarantee the safety of hapless human beings in a complex and interdependent century – human beings who still don’t come complete or supplied with their own portable laboratories.
A market for cheap and easy-to-use DNA testers then?
Perhaps the need is wider than that. Maybe the market that’s really waiting to be exploited is for an algorithmic comparer of prices and products, which automatically suggests the potential presence of fraudulent behaviours in any supply chain.
For until we as consumers get far more access to information about what goes on behind the scenes in such B2B transactions, there is little we can do but to resign ourselves to further and ever-increasing fraud in banking, technology and food products various.