Self regulation of industries – especially meat processing – is a catch phrase that has been making the rounds with our most recent budget negotiations. Cost cutting and pandering to the “limited government” crowd is tempting to many. This article addresses what happens when the industry is left to itself. More costs are cut by accepting deals in which everyone looks the other way and horsemeat winds up on the dinner table. “Where’s the beef?” indeed. ~ HfH
From: The Guardian
By: Felicity Lawrence
Organised crime and mafia-type networks penetrate the heart of a country’s mainstream economy when there is a breakdown of the rule of law, or so the criminology theories go. We like to think that the breakdown of law is something that happens elsewhere – in fragile states where political instability and weak institutions allow criminals to operate with impunity, and ordinary people have little access to justice – not the sort of thing that would happen here, surely.
Yet last week a government-commissioned review of the horsemeat scandal warned that organised crime had penetrated our mainstream food manufacturing and retailing sectors. Food fraud is such a risk, it said, that we need a new, specialised police force to deal with it, because criminals laundering meat know they are likely to go undetected and, even if detected, likely to go unpunished.
The corporations that dealt in the proceeds of horsemeat crime may hide behind the excuse that they didn’t know, but why are they not being held criminally liable? Buy a half-price Rolex from a street dealer and you would struggle to persuade the police you didn’t think it was fake or stolen. If big manufacturers and retailers buy “beef” that’s a third of the market price of real beef, they shouldn’t be able to use ignorance as an excuse to avoid prosecution. Yet they have done so and there will be no penalty, because they are too big to take on; they have become untouchable.
What we are witnessing is not so much the breakdown of the rule of law as the systematic removal of law. We may not have the political instability of a fragile state, but we have weakened the public institutions that keep the market in check. This is the logical corollary of the great neoliberal project. Any burden on business must be stripped away, and the role of the state must be shrunk. So government inspection and testing in the food industry has been cut in favour of allowing the private sector to police itself. The regulator, in this case the Food Standards Agency, has been eviscerated, cut and stripped of powers, and left inadequate for the task of investigating. Individual local councils and trading standards officers – responsible as the home authorities for imposing the law on any giant company headquartered in their patch – have lost most of what little money they had to rise to the unequal challenge. Crime, not surprisingly, has rushed into the vacuum, and the industry’s own policemen turned out to be of the sleeping kind.