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Horseburgers are not the turning point

We need to take charge of our food, says Colin Tudge.

We need to take charge of our food, says Colin Tudge.


Horseburgers should have turned people against the industrialised food chain, but that doesn’t seem to have happened.

Food chain

The controlling corporates have wondrous PR and lobbying power and the government is firmly on their side, because corporates provide easily measurable wealth which is called GDP and so contributes to ‘economic growth’ which is their chief obsession. So no-one in positions of power has pointed out that the food chain is far too long and complex, and cannot possibly be policed.

Nor do people in power point out that the endlessly contorted food chain with all its middle men, is a prime reason why food is now so dear. After all, farmers who sell to supermarkets typically receive only about 20 per cent of the retail price, while those who sell more directly through local markets get around 60 per cent. So farmers could easily double their income, and small farms could become viable again, and food would still be far cheaper. Tesco et al’s cheap food is an illusion.

A little meat

Neither has anyone in positions of power and responsibility – not in industry nor in government – made the obvious point that we just don’t need as much meat as we eat in the West; that the whole burger ‘culture’ is misguided.

We don’t need to be vegetarian either, or not at least on ecological grounds, because grass can be grown where cereals and vegetables cannot, so grass-fed beef and lamb should be a bonus. All we really need is to re-learn how to cook – for all the world’s great traditional cuisines use meat sparingly: as garnish, in stock, and just for occasional treats (as in the Sunday roast and the Christmas turkey).

In short, the horseburger fiasco ought to have been an opportunity to make serious points and begin the sea-change that is needed to restore sanity to the world’s agriculture and to the food chain as a whole: to end the rule of government-backed corporates and put ourselves back in charge. 


Yet all we have had from on high are assurances that horseburgers are a one-off and the people responsible will be punished (provided they are not too high up the pecking order); that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the present system; that the status quo must be and will be restored with all possible haste.

Besides, we are told (perhaps the one snippet that is actually true), horsemeat should do us no harm. Indeed, the food industry might benefit from horseburgers, since the word has got round that horses are rather succulent, and Rumania in particular, urged by the EU to industrialize its farming, has an awful lot of them to get rid of.

Do it ourselves

But some people – including farmers and cooks and not a few scientists – have long been pointing out that the industrialized food chain is a disaster. It does not feed the world population although that should technically be easy; and is clearly not sustainable, although that should be easy enough too.

It’s clear that small mixed farms can feed the world far better and more sustainably than monocultural estates and factories of the kind the supermarkets need; that food chains should be short; and that traditional cooking does all that needs doing. If governments were actually on the side of humanity they would be helping to make all this happen, and employing scientists of the kind who can help the process along (as they did between World War II and about 1980).

As things stand, people at large just have to do what needs doing for ourselves – as some of us are seeking to do through our Campaign for Real and the Oxford Real Farming Conference.

The next ORFC is next January. Do come!

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Colin Tudge
Colin Tudge, biologist and writer, co-founded the Campaign for Real Farming and the Oxford Real Farming Conference. His latest book, Why genes are not selfish and people are nice, is now published by Floris
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