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Criminal charges for ICA meat labelling scandal

Public prosecutor Solveig Sörlien has filed formal charges against an ICA grocery store in the Stockholm suburb of Nacka for relabeling outdated packages of mince meat and putting them back on store shelves.

Criminal charges for ICA meat labelling scandal

In the indictment, which implicates the head of sales and the section head of the ICA Maxi in Nacka, Sörlien contends that the employees’ actions violated Sweden’s food law, a crime which, strictly speaking, had no specific victims.

“Not that I know of, in any case. All consumers have the right to expect that the rules are being followed, so under that interpretation we are all victims of a crime,” Sörlien told the TT news agency.

Sörlien wants Nacka Stormarknad AB to pay a corporate fine of at least 350,000 kronor ($49,000).

By calling for a fine, Sörlein is effectively holding the entire company responsible, rather than only the store manager.

The ICA meat scandal was exposed in December 2007 by a the Sveriges Television documentary news show Uppdrag Granskning.

The program showed how ICA Maxi stores in the Stockholm suburbs of Botkyrka, Haninge, and Nacka,a s well as a store in nearby Södertälje had relabeled and sold packages of meat which had passed their original expiration dates.

Several more incidents of re-labeling at other ICA stores came to light following the report.

The fact that the prosecutor didn’t prosecute the head of the company demonstrates that the CEO wasn’t aware of the relabeling, said Per E. Samuelsson, who is representing the company in the case.

“The investigations, ours and the police’s, shows that a few employees in a few sporadic instances thought it was wrong to throw away perfectly good meat. They had sound reasoning, even if it violated the formal letter of the law,” Samulesson told TT, adding that relabeling wasn’t systematic and that there isn’t anything wrong with ICA’s procedures.

“The employees thought ‘the whole world is starving and he we are throwing out first rate mince meat’, and then Uppdrag granskning showed up,” he said.

“They crossed the street on a red light, but who hasn’t done that at some point.”

CLIMATE

Why does Sweden’s love for vegetarianism create an appetite for objection?

A number of schools in Sweden have cut meat from their menus in recent years, sometimes provoking strong reactions, and companies have also experienced backlashes.

Why does Sweden’s love for vegetarianism create an appetite for objection?
File photo: Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT

The cultural and historical position of meat as a staple of the national diet is a major reason for opposition to modern trends which promote vegetarianism, according to researcher Richard Tellström, an associate professor in food and meal science and an ethnologist at Stockholm University.

“Meat has always had a high status,” Tellström told TT.

When IT company Telavox recently announced it was dropping meat from its events and meetings, it came in for criticism from a number of customers, with some even saying they wanted to cancel contracts.

“This turned out to be a sensitive topic, perhaps more sensitive than I envisaged,” the company’s HR manager Filip Johansson said.

The decision by Telavox was not an attack on the meat industry, but an attempt to raise the issue of the effect of meat consumption on the climate, he said.

“It’s actually quite a soft action, but some people consider it an affront. They react to what they see as pointed fingers and forced changes. But we have also had positive reactions, so you have to weight things up,” the HR manager added.

Some municipalities in Sweden have trialled removing meat from school dining rooms on some days of the week. At a school on Orust, teachers protested that vegetarian lunches resulted in tired children who could not concentrate on lessons, GT/Expressen reported earlier in the year.

In other areas, parents have resisted vegetarian lunches in schools. In Mörbylånga, a mother called for “honest home cooking” in response to a vegetarian day at her son’s school, and reported the school’s headmaster to the local municipality, saying her child had been left hungry by the food that was served, local media Barometern reported in April.

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“If I deprive you of the right to practise your culture, you will naturally feel offended. And food is as culturally loaded as clothes, books, art and music,” Tellström said.

Historically, meat has been in short supply, and this is part of the reason it has a valued status in Sweden, the associate professor said.

Swedes are so secular and rational in their values that they easily forget food is an expression of those values, Tellström also noted, saying this is a reason why banning or excluding meat can provoke strong reactions.

At the same time, there is a growing trend towards opting not to eat meat, particularly amongst young people in urban areas.

“This is an urban phenomenon, and more and more people live in cities. We can also see a clear distinction between the food cultures of younger and older people, and also between men and women, in a way we haven’t seen before,” the researcher said.

“I think we should be careful about limiting people’s cultural expressions and speaking on their behalf about how to create a better world,” he added.

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