• We are What we Eat – but what are we eating?

    We are what we eat

    This week I co-chaired a conference at the Royal Society For Public Health on the Elliott review which concerned food fraud and food security, and listened to Professor Elliott talking about the steps we will be taking to ensure that our food supply is safe and secure.

    I remember that some of the comments during the Horsemeat scandal centred around the fact that the meat itself was not harmful – it was just horse instead of beef. Some people, we were told, are happy to eat horse. This reminds me of a case where I was an expert, and the defence said that it was OK to have live slugs in the (rather dirty) ice machine as people in China ate them! The fact is, if we buy beef, we expect beef. If we buy a gin and tonic, we don’t expect slugs in it. But of perhaps even more importance is the fact that the people who are substituting one food for another will have absolutely no interest in its safety. These people who adulterate food deliberately are criminals, and history has shown us, with milk in China and Oil in Spain, that sometimes adulteration can have very severe consequences.

    Another point is that health is not merely the absence of disease; the World Health Organisation expands on this and says that it includes physical, mental and social well-being. So where pork is put in halal meat, or beef is in vegetarian meals, then the harm to the individual may be different to being poisoned, but it is nevertheless an issue and could be extremely upsetting.Recently  was asked to comment on ome photographs that had been posted on Jonathan Vernon Smith’s Facebook page by a listener to his consumer show who had purchased a bucket of fried chicken. Look away now if you have a sensitive disposition!

    suspect chicken take away 3Food Adulteration - what is this? suspect chicken take-away











    It turns out the food is not a mouse, mouse foetus, brain or any of the other things that may spring to mind, but a chicken lung. This doesn’t alter the fact that the person eating the chicken felt sick, and one person looking at the pictures said they had actually been sick. It may not have caused harm, but when you buy a bucket of breaded chicken, it is not what you expect. My question was – was it deliberately added? Of course chicken lungs are much cheaper than chicken breast or legs. Obviously these are questions for the caterer, the Environmental Health Department and the supplier as well.

    So one thing I would caution you about – if food is too cheap, take care – it may not be what it says it is…..


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