In the wake of the horsemeat scandal that has rocked Europe and shaken consumer confidence, Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food Movement, sounds off on the controversy with stern words for both decision makers and consumers alike in an opinion piece:
We need to put a stop to misleading labels! The scandal spreading across Europe following the discovery of horsemeat in prepared foods shows that the European traceability system works in emergency situations -- when products that are hazardous to health have to be recalled.
However, it also shows that the system is not effective when it comes to informing consumers about the contents of the food they're buying, the ingredients that were used and the way they were prepared.
Labels are misleading or, at best, lack information. Why? Well, because if I could read on a label that a dish contains ingredients produced all over the world and that it was prepared in a factory and packaged thousands of kilometers away, I would probably wonder about the quality of that product. And yet, this is exactly what happens to most of the foodstuffs which have undergone siginficant transformation -- what Americans refer to as "processed food."
Now, lobbyists have waded into the debate in Brussels and are standing in the way of any regulations that would provide consumers with clear and exhaustive information on labels, in the name of free competition or free trade...The European Parliament is full of supporters of the free market system who are ready to protest as soon as anyone demands detailed labels or suggests that it be compulsory to declare where a product's primary ingredients come from.
We can no longer accept a system that favors lasagna made with meat from anonymous sources while undervaluing traditional, artisanal, organic, farm-produced foods by labeling them as belonging to an "elitist niche".
We must ask political decision-makers to fight for a fairer, more open system with exhaustive labeling and more guarantees.
But above all, as consumers, we must open our eyes, make conscientious choices, ask questions and understand that each purchase is a vote in favor of one food system over another; that we have everything to gain by rapidly moving to source food locally from farmers; and that it would be better all round to give up processed foods and start real cooking again -- simply and inexpensively.
When Carlo Petrini stood up to the global fast food giant McDonald's in the 1980s in an attempt to prevent the chain from opening an outlet in Rome, little did he know he'd go on to spearhead an international food movement followed by disciples in 150 countries around the world.
But for the past 26 years, Petrini has led the Slow Food Movement, a group that grew out of a fierce resistance to the fast food industry and which champions traditional, regional and sustainable foods.