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HORSEMEAT SCANDAL

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Sweden to DNA test meat products nationwide

Sweden is planning to DNA test everything from meatballs to hamburgers in a bid to crack down on suspected mislabelling of horsemeat as beef, after frozen food company Findus found horsemeat in its ready-meals.

Sweden to DNA test meat products nationwide

Meatballs, hamburgers, minced meat and lasagnes are on the hit list of the Swedish National Food Agency (Livsmedelsverket), which plans to perform between 50 and 100 tests nationwide.

The agency said tests may be run in school canteens and in hospital kitchens, alongside testing ready-made meals, and expects to compile the results by the end of March.

Swedish retailers have already removed six different brands of ready-to-eat lasagne meals from their shelves on suspicions that they contain horsemeat.

The agency performed similar tests last year after up to 20 tonnes of frozen meat labelled as beef turned out to be dyed pork.

Swedish Green Party MEP Carl Schlyter said he was not surprised by the food scandal sweeping Europe.

“Stores have their own brands to build credibility, but it offers a false sense of security,” Schlyter told the TT news agency.

“They have no control of what produce is being used in the products.”

He blamed the intense consumer focus on low-price produce in Europe.

“This is a systemic problem on the European food market, especially when stores run low-cost campaigns. The entire food inspection system in the EU relies on producers doing their own inspections,” he pointed out.

“So it’s tempting to break the law and produce false papers.”

Of the products already removed from Swedish food store shelves, all six were made by Comigel, the French firm that produced the Findus lasagne sold in the UK, which turned out to purely contain horsemeat.

The Swedish subsidiary of Findus said on Sunday that it was preparing a lawsuit against Comigel over the scandal.

Louise Ungerth, head of consumer policy at Consumer Cooperative Society

(Konsumentföreningen) in Stockholm, said she saw similar problems with the low-price focus that Carl Schlyter elaborated on.

”Swedes are obsessed with prices, stores need to lure consumers all the time,” she told TT.

Ungerth’s organization has long lobbied for clearer information about the provenance of meat products.

“We see it over and over again in consumer surveys that people want to know where the meat comes from”, she said.

“The industry says it’s too complex and expensive, but if you can print a best-before date on the packaging, how difficult can it be to print a two-letter indication of what country the produce comes from.”

TT/The Local/at

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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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