Opinion: Food quality at what price? | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 06.01.2011
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Opinion: Food quality at what price?

Consumers have lost their appetite for eggs as Germany is hit by another food scandal. Technical advances won't stop criminal practices in the food industry, only tighter controls will says Deutsche Welle’s Judith Hartl.

Chicken on farm

Spoilt and dioxin-contaminated eggs are being used to make pasta instead of being thrown away. Rotten meat is relabeled beyond the permissible “Sell-By” date. We’ve seen it all before. The public is justifiably outraged when such scandals are uncovered. Because practices like reprocessing slaughterhouse waste into sausages, with the help of flavor and aroma enhancing chemicals are not just mistakes, they are blatantly criminal.

None of these scandals happen “coincidentally”. It is no accident that manufactured fat components contaminated with dioxin instead of plant fats ended up in animal feed that innocent farmers ended up feeding to their pigs, cattle and chickens.

Judith Hartl

DW science editor Judith Hartl

Dirty practices in order to save money

In the food and livestock industry it's apparently not unusual to be resort to dirty practices when these cut costs. The punishment is no more than a fine or a suspended prison-sentence. That has to change.

Manufacturers also have to be held accountable. They must explain clearly precisely what is in the foods they make. What exactly is in that sausage that may taste good, but where no one really knows whether it's actually reprocessed slaughterhouse waste – or not. And how those animals whose meat and eggs we eat and whose milk we drink are actually fed.

Calls for greater control

Renewed calls for improved and tighter food safety controls must be heard. But consumers can become active and take responsibility for what they eat. They can choose what they eat, and what they spend their money on.

We can’t show disgust at the sale of rotten or dioxin-contaminated eggs, yet buy the cheapest eggs in the supermarket. It's obvious that cheap eggs are laid by battery hens that are kept in tight confinements and fed with the cheapest chicken feed possible. Consumers have to be aware of this cycle. It's simply not possible to buy cheap produce yet expect top quality. Quality comes at a price.

Yet kneejerk reactions where consumers avoid eggs or pork for the duration of a scandal are pointless. This only damages honest farmers, and in the end, nothing changes. The criminals continue to profit and the consumer remains the mug.

Judith Hartl is DW's science editor (wl)
Editor: Rob Turner

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