Musings about Mislabeled Products
Feb 27, 2013
Mislabeling food products has consumers up in arms in the U.S. and Europe. You can understand the customers’ concerns. Stop at the supermarket and pick up some beef stew. You would be angry to find that it was really horse meat stew. If you order red snapper fish in your restaurant and find out that it is really tilapia, you wouldn’t like that either.
Europe has horse meat showing up in dishes that are supposed to be beef and it appears that as much as 1/3 of the seafood sold in the U.S. is mislabeled.
Mislabeling meat is not new. When I was Secretary of Agriculture, one morning in 1983, my Chief of Staff came into my office and said, "We have a problem. We have discovered that an Australian meat company that imports beef into the U.S. has been labeling the product beef but it is really kangaroo meat."
Well, needless to say, the Australian plant was shut down.
One thing that I would say about the current mislabeling scandal is that it’s not really surprising. If you can sell cheap tilapia fish as expensive red snapper you make more money. And, in Europe, any time you can slip in a little cheap horse meat for beef, you make more money.
How do we fix the problem? One way would be for us to butcher our own beef, cut it into steaks and roasts, etc. and freeze it. That’s what we did when I was a boy. Of course, we’re not going to do that now.
Some would suggest that the FDA should have more inspectors checking the DNA of meat. That’s not going to work either. We can’t afford to hire that many inspectors. I think the retail store chains like Safeway and Walmart have the incentive to unsure that what they sell is not mislabeled. Same goes for McDonald’s and other big foodservice restaurants. They have a reputation to protect. We will never completely fix the problem. Feeding the world is too complicated and complex.
At least the mislabeled substitutes, although cheaper, won’t hurt you, and they will taste better than kangaroo meat.
In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to www.johnblockreports.com.