“The feeling of friendship is like that of being comfortably filled with roast beef; love, like being enlivened with champagne.” The words of Samuel Johnson which have a delightfully eighteenth-century simplicity that still resonates, although no doubt the good doctor’s beef was of a rather more wholesome nature than some that has been produced in Poland of late.
The problem arose after a reporter from private broadcaster TVN obtained a job in a slaughterhouse around 113 km east of Warsaw where he was ordered to kill cows and butcher their meat. Last week’s broadcast television report showed sick cows being transported to the slaughterhouse where they were mistreated and killed. This lead Poland’s chief veterinary officer to say on Thursday that Polish police had launched a criminal investigation.
Not to be outdone, the European Commission said on Friday that it will send a team of inspectors to Poland. Poland produces about 560,000 tonnes of beef a year, with 85 per cent exported to countries within the European Union. “The team of European Commission auditors are being deployed to Poland on Monday to assess the situation on the ground,” a Commission spokesperson told a daily news briefing, adding that the problem may concern 14 EU countries in total, including the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and Germany.
The Polish ministry of agriculture has said that it has closed down the slaughterhouse at the heart of a scandal. And Poland’s agriculture minister has warned that offenders should expect “no leniency”. The minister, Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski, admitted that such practices dented confidence in Poland’s food producers. The Ministry added that information about the markets in which the slaughterhouse sold its meat products have been filed with the European RASFF food and feed safety alert system. According to Ministry officials, all the meat produced by this plant has been confiscated, examined, and presented “no biological threats”. Given that illegal procedures had come to light, the meat was nevertheless being withdrawn from markets abroad.
On a more positive note, Ardanowski said that, in agreement with the European Commission, Poland wanted to bring in legal changes. “In slaughterhouses where there is no 24-hour veterinarian presence, around-the-clock surveillance needs to be introduced. That is quite logical and will be immediately introduced,” he added. Not before time one might think.
While there is no excuse for meat that is unfit to enter the food processing system, and discounting stupidity and ignorance, perhaps the bigger problem is the quest for ever cheaper food which puts pressure on producers and makes cutting corners all too tempting. Is it sustainable, to use the word against which all must now be judged, to expect ever cheaper food not to mean ever worse quality? Quality costs, and perhaps it is time consumers realised that. If we really are what we eat, we ought to be more discriminating.
Be that as it may, if one is going to launch a new political party without meat on the menu, this was probably the week to do it. Thus, the food at Sunday’s launch of Robert Biedroń’s new party, Wiosna (spring in English) was reportedly all vegan. Biedroń is himself a vegetarian and a supporter of animal rights. During his time as the mayor of Słupsk, more vegetarian options were added to the menu in the city hall canteen.
“We want no more Polish-Polish war, we want mutual respect and dialogue” said Biedroń at the launch convention of his party. “These last years have been cold and gloomy. Instead of talks we got unending conflict, instead of common good – party interests, instead of empathy – growing enmity. May this change at last” he said, speaking of “a frosty winter that must end at last. We are the spring, we bring in fresh air to Polish politics.”
It remains to be seen how popular will be the meat of the programme he outlined, such as phasing out the use of coal and fighting air pollution, ending the privileged status of the church, ending the politicisation of state media, new rules on transparency of salaries in the public sector, tighter rules on business activity by officials, and ending the ‘rubber stamp’ culture of Polish bureaucracy. An opinion poll run by IBRIS for Onet website suggested the support of some 6.4% – more than the Polish Peoples Party and Kukiz ’15 currently in Poland’s Parliament. But, in the final analysis, one man’s meat is another man’s poison.