by Guy Brandon
There are a number of lessons for Christians to learn from the horsemeat scandal - aside from a national epidemic of equine-themed puns.
It could hardly have come as a surprise when Environment Secretary Owen Paterson suggested that the presence of horse DNA in beef products could be due to an 'international conspiracy' rather than accident or 'incompetence'. It seems almost certain that unscrupulous abattoirs have been bulking out their beef exports with cheap, available meat, rather than a series of clumsy or careless horses meeting their unfortunate ends (or, indeed, meat simply being routinely mis-labelled).
The first lesson is perhaps that unbridled capitalism and unfettered consumerism have their downsides. We want cheap food but overlook the maxim that you get what you pay for. Of course, the free market doesn't mandate this kind of criminal behaviour. The point is that we don't question who and what are at the other end of a long, opaque and complex food chain. Clothes made in sweatshops, raw materials that devastate the environment and destroy communities: when the price is right we're disinclined to look too far beneath the surface. We only get the bit between our teeth when the injustices affect us - such as when our bargain lasagne turns out to be 100 per cent fake.
Another is that these things tend not to happen all at once. Presumably the criminals responsible didn't decide overnight to saddle their customers with completely bogus meat. To begin with, perhaps the animals otherwise bound for tins of cat food or the glue factory represented a few per cent of their volumes and on their profit margins. When they got away with it, it must have been tempting to usher a few more carcasses onto the conveyer belts, and then a few more. The knowledge that many sins, crimes and addictions start in a gradual way might spur us to re-examine our own lifestyles. In the words of the Doobey Brothers album, 'what were once vices are now habits'.
Finally, there's a salutary lesson in the way we present ourselves to the outside world. Reputations will be made and broken over this, with integrity and transparency rewarded and negligence - some of it apparently wilful - punished. Words and other forms of advertising are cheap; actions and integrity speak louder. Perhaps the final lesson is, with Matt 5:37 (KJV), 'But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay.'