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Dustbin to dinner: ministers served binned food
by Staff Writers
Nairobi (AFP) Feb 19, 2013

Horsemeat scandal fears spread to Hong Kong
Hong Kong (AFP) Feb 20, 2013 - Fears over a Europe-wide food fraud scandal concerning horsemeat sold as beef have spread to Hong Kong after an imported brand of "beef" lasagne was pulled from shelves, officials said Wednesday.

Hong Kong authorities last week ordered a top local supermarket chain to remove the lasagne made by frozen food giant Findus, one of the firms at the centre of the scandal.

The product was imported from Britain and made by French firm Comigel. Western food is popular in the Asian financial centre, which has a large population of expatriates.

Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety urged locals not to consume the item, which it said "might be adulterated with horsemeat which has not undergone tests for veterinary drugs".

The product had been sold at supermarkets run by ParknShop, one of the biggest supermarket chains in the southern Chinese city and owned by tycoon Li Ka-shing.

"The product was removed from our stores last week following the government's instructions," a ParknShop spokeswoman told AFP Wednesday.

The chain has about 280 stores in Hong Kong and the neighbouring gaming hub of Macau.

A spokeswoman at the government's food and environmental hygiene department said authorities would monitor the food fraud scandal closely but only one contaminated product had so far been sold in Hong Kong.

Neither the supermarket nor the government could give the number of the Findus frozen beef lasagnes that were recalled in the city.

Checks by AFP found no similar action regarding suspect food had so far been taken in Indonesia, the Philippines or Malaysia.

Concerns about horsemeat first emerged in mid-January when Irish authorities found traces of horse in beefburgers made by firms in Ireland and Britain and sold in supermarket chains including Tesco and Aldi.

The scandal intensified when Comigel alerted Findus this month to the presence of horsemeat in the meals it had made for the food giant and which were on sale in Britain.

Since then, supermarket chains have removed millions of "beef" products as tests are carried out to detect horsemeat.

The green beans are fresh, the broccoli crunchy and the baby corn sweet, but having failed "cosmetic" tests of international supermarkets, the Kenyan-grown food was hurled out as waste.

On Tuesday however, vegetables considered too ugly for shop-shelves were served at a special dinner for some 100 global environment ministers and top-level delegations to highlight the "scandal" of large scale but entirely unnecessary food wastage.

The meal, held at the Nairobi-based UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), was organised by anti-food waste campaigner Tristram Stuart, who collected some 1,600 kilogrammes of unwanted fruit and vegetables in Kenya for the meal.

"No economic, environmental or ethical argument can be made to justify the extent of food waste," UNEP chief Achim Steiner told the dinner, where the previously binned food was served up by top chefs.

UNEP is campaigning to slash the current 1.3 billion tonnes of food lost or wasted each year as part of efforts to ease the environmental impact on an "already straining global food system".

Kenya is a key market for export of fresh vegetables to European supermarkets, especially to Britain.

But similar displays of the "disproportionate power of supermarkets" over farmers producing for export are found worldwide, Stuart said, showing images of rotting bananas in Ecuador, oranges in Florida or tomatoes in Tenerife.

"It is a huge scandal, but also a huge opportunity" for change, said Stuart, who said he was "genuinely shocked and distressed" at the amount of vegetables in Kenya rejected by supermarkets and thrown away.

Stuart criticised the "particularly pernicious practices" of international supermarkets with overly strict standards for appearance that will bin beans for being too long or not green enough.

Supermarkets also cancel orders after vegetables had been harvested, added Stuart, a British environmental campaigner who created the 'Feeding the 5,000' organisation to encourage cuts in food waste.

While some unwanted produce is sold on the local market or donated, so much is rejected that much is left to rot or fed to livestock, prompting resentment amongst Kenyan farmers hit with the lost revenue, he added.

And some producers sign contracts with supermarket chains that block them from selling unwanted food on local markets or even donating it to charities, with farmers allowed only to use the vegetables for animal feed.

"If it happens in Kenya, it is also happening elsewhere in Africa, in Asia and Latin America," said UNEP spokesman Nick Nuttall. "This could be just the tip of the iceberg."

One farmer supplying a British supermarket chain said he wasted up to 40 tonnes of vegetables every week, or 40% of his production, Stuart said.

Many of the vegetables are for international, not Kenyan or local tastes, meaning there is a limited market for crops such as baby corn.

But while ministers -- including top ministers from Europe -- may peer at their plates for curly carrots or peculiarly shaped parsnips, they will notice little different in their meal, Stuart said.

"There is no noticeable difference...it is unbelievable because for me it is indistinguishable," added Stuart.

"Supermarkets do not need to enforce such strict cosmetic standards."

Ministers were served a five course meal including grilled sweet corn, lentils with tamarind, and tiramisu made with mangoes.


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