Horses for food courses must not happen again
The revelations about the discovery of horsemeat in the human food chain are most disturbing. It has been long taken for granted that food for the mass market is prepared to the highest possible standards.
Recently, however, this assumption has been exposed by the news that some of the ready-made lasagne meals in the Findus range may have contained varying degrees of horse meat.
According to the Food Standards Agency, the company tested 18 of its beef lasagne products and found that 11 of these contained 60%-100% horsemeat.
This has sent shock waves through the food industry, and the supermarket chain Asda has withdrawn, as a precaution, four frozen burger products supplied by a Northern Ireland company. Other supermarkets have also taken similar precautionary measures.
The question facing everyone now is what is being done to ensure that this does not happen again.
There is a long sequence of events between producing the food and making sure that it is fit for human consumption, and this requires a complex system of checks and balances. Some of these have obviously gone wrong.
Meanwhile it has also emerged that there is a huge problem with abandoned horses in Ireland, and one charity has estimated that the figure could be as high as 40,000.
Animal cruelty on this scale is difficult to imagine, but even more worrying are the claims that criminal cruelty and neglect may have contributed to horsemeat entering the food chain.
If necessary a wide-ranging inquiry should be set up by police and the Stormont authorities to try to uncover the details of all these disturbing issues.
The welfare of animals is important, but far more so is that of human beings. Consumers depend on the assurances of those who produce their food. A trust has been broken. Public confidence has been shaken, and much needs to be done by the manufacturers, distributors and suppliers to restore it. People will not easily forget the revelations of recent days, which have produced a great deal of food for thought, and in more ways than one.