- Published: Sunday, 15 July 2018 23:16
In the modern world, we depend on food labels to tell us a number of things about the products were consume, including their freshness and safety and exactly what's in them. Recently, a story hit the world news outlets that makes it clear why good meat labels are so important.
This past May, a scandal erupted in the Indian city of Kolkata, in Bengal Province, that sent meat sales plummeting in restaurants and grocery stores alike. The local police had raided several companies that sold meat to local restaurants and grocery stores, with horrifying results:: in one freezer, they found the rotting carcasses of numerous chickens, along with emaciated living chickens.
Worse, in another provider's freezers they found 20 metric tonnes of rotting animal carcasses—that's 20,000 kilograms, or about 44,000 pounds. News reports have been very careful not to mention the types of animal carcasses found, but rumors have abounded.
As it turns out, the perpetrators were literally retrieving the carcasses from the garbage. When they learned that someone had dropped animal remains off at a local landfill, they picked up the remains and returned the carcass(es) to their premises for processing. At one landfill, they had an employee—allegedly a former local politician—who tipped them off whenever an animal carcass was dumped.
Apparently, one reason they were able to get away with the scam for as long as they did was that they were mostly providing the meat to their customers unlabeled.
In some cases, however, they were wrapping it in the packaging of legitimate meat packagers. Whether the packaging was scavenged, stolen, or simply counterfeited remains uncertain.
How far the tainted meat has been shipped also remains uncertain, though some sources indicated that it was shipped throughout India and to nearby countries like Bangladesh.
Needless to say, locals were horrified. Most restaurants and grocery stores were quick to assure their customers that they procured their meat from other sources that had been deemed safe, with the TGI Friday's restaurant chain going so far as to admit they sourced their pork from the United States.
Nonetheless, many consumers weren't willing to take any chances, and sales of meat dishes in local restaurants immediately declined by as much as 60%. Some people still trusted chicken, but others opted for purely vegetarian meals. Later, as more news got out, chicken sales also plummeted all over the city.
Police arrested ten people in the wake of the raids. Another apparently fled to Bangladesh. It later came to light that more than half of 120 Bengali food samples tested in 2014-15 were found to be "adulterated," and that the local Food Safety and Standards Authority of India was aware that food quality in Bengal was poor in general.
It's easy to say that something like the Bengali scandal couldn't happen here, but it could. All it takes is a few unscrupulous individuals and governmental apathy. That's why accurate meat labels are so important—and it's one reason why certain language is required on the labels by the government.
Companies need to be careful about meat labels because they need to be careful about public health—and their own corporate integrity.