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Observations Food for Thought

Adulteration of food: what it doesn’t say on the tin

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 06 March 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f1463
  1. Gabriel Scally, director, WHO Collaborating Centre for Healthy Urban Environments, University of the West of England
  1. gabriel.scally{at}

The horse meat scandal is just the latest sign that we need a concerted effort to change our collective food culture

There’s nothing new about the adulteration of food. The opportunity to increase profit by surreptitiously substituting inferior ingredients has tempted unscrupulous conmen and women down the centuries. Indeed, what is held to be the very first piece of public health legislation passed by the Westminster parliament was the 1757 “Act for the due making of Bread; and to regulate the Price and Assize thereof; and to punish Persons who shall adulterate Meal, Flour, or Bread.” The current horse meat scandal, which was first exposed in Ireland and has now reached across Europe, shows only that modern food processing has created the opportunity to practise fraud on consumers on a truly massive and international scale. It remains to be seen whether any wrongdoers are punished.

But this isn’t the first major crisis in the United Kingdom’s food system. In recent decades there has been the …

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