Horses for main courses in Oxford

hawseThe horsemeat scandal hit Oxford again this week, with contaminated products being withdrawn from sale at several shops and restaurants.

Catering-giant Whitbread, which owns the Beefeater chain, as well as Premier Inn, Brewer’s Fayre, and Costa Coffee, withdrew a range of lasagne and beef burgers from its restaurants, after they were found to test positive for horse DNA.

One student favourite, the Mitre pub and restaurant, part of the Beefeater chain, was affected as part of the nationwide product recall.

Whilst the Mitre’s management declined to give any independent apology or statement to customers, saying that responsibility lay at head office, they confirmed that the dodgy meat could have been sold on site, commenting: “Obviously we did serve lasagne here; if we have it on the menu, we sell it”.

However, according to company policy, the meals have now been taken “off the menu”.

The legal minimum meat content for beef burgers in the UK is 62 per cent or 47 per cent for beef burgers sold as an ‘economy’ product. ‘Meat’, according to EU standards for beef, can be up to 25 per cent connective tissue, and 25 per cent fat.

Any fat or connective tissue content over these limits is listed as such on the product’s packaging. ‘Meat’ may not include any tissue which is mechanically recovered from the carcass.

Other local establishments affected by the recall include the Oxford Premier Inn restaurant, as well as pubs in Abingdon, Bicester, and Oxford Business Park, all belonging to Whitbread. Whilst none were available for individual comment, each did confirm that they were sticking to company policy, and withdrawing the applicable products from sale.

A spokesman for Whitbread said: “The product recall was national and across all of our restaurant brands”.

Whitbread claims that the offending products came from two separate suppliers; the burgers from Paragon Quality Foods, and the lasagne from Brakes Brothers.

Brakes Brothers had in turn received the meat, sold as ‘frozen beef mince’, from the aptly named Creative Foods. Creative Foods had bought the mince from the Hampshire company Pinnacle Foods, but since the news came to light, has stopped using the firm as a supplier.

Managing Director of Pinaccle Foods, Graham Reed, perhaps revealing the disconnect between food supplier chains and their sources, called the news “a complete surprise and shock”, adding that “we have never ever knowingly had equine material on our premises or indeed ever dealt in horsemeat.”

In a statement, Whitbread apologised to customers, but also questioned industry-wide food standards and practice, saying: “We are shocked and disappointed at this failure of the processed meat supply chain. As an industry,it is clear we need the supply chain to deliver products to the highest standards of food integrity and quality that we and our customers expect.”

In light of the scandal, the company has promised to introduce “a robust testing regime” to avoid future embarrassment.

Students have had mixed reactions to the news. Ella Bucknall, longstanding vegetarian at Merton, commented: “What really pisses me off about the horse-meat scandal is the fact that people are upset that they’re eating horse rather than cow. It’s all meat and it’s all supporting an evidently corrupt industry. Becoming vegetarian is ultimately the best way to leave this whole mare behind you.”

However, Mansfield student Ariane Moshiri had a more relaxed attitude, saying: “Personally, I don’t feel too worried about the possible presence of horsemeat seeing as it is eaten in numerous countries, namely France where I have seen it on the menu.

“But it is really unfortunate that it is the cheaper meat products that have been affected, because it implies you have to spend much more to ensure [the quality] of your food. After all, Waitrose has not been affected by the incident as Tesco has. As for the Mitre, I never go there; much prefer the burgers from the Turf.”

Other Oxford retailers affected by the horsemeat scandal, which has been traced to abattoirs in the UK and across Europe, include Tesco and Aldi stores, both of which have withdrawn contaminated processed meat products from sale.

However, the scandal has affected nearly all national supermarket chains, with Lidl, Iceland, the Co-op and Asda finding horsemeat in beef products, and Sainsbury’s and Morrison’s withdrawing products as a precautionary measure.

Even the premium Waitrose has not been left wholly unscathed, after its frozen beef meatballs were found to contain traces of pork.

In January, The Oxford Student reported that the ‘Free From’ burgers that Tesco had officially withdrawn as a precaution were still available for purchase in the Cowley Road Tesco Express.