Is there any point adding DNA testing to Tesco's Hieronymus Bosch painting of a production line?

Horse burger scandal.

More on the horsemeat scandal today as Tesco announces that it will be DNA testing its burgers. DNA testing is expensive but perhaps that's the point. As might be expected, Tesco is super-keen to reassure its customers that something's being done. Here's Tim Smith, Tesco's group technical director commenting on the decision in the FT:

We want to leave customers in no doubt that we will do whatever it takes to ensure the quality of their food and that the food they buy is exactly what the label says it is.

But I can't help thinking it would be cheaper to set up some checks earlier in the production process to ensure that the anomalous 29 per cent (that's over one in four) of the animals hanging on a hook in the abattoir look more like a cow than a horse. How technical can the solution be? It's actually fairly hard to serve up horses in this country - according to the FT's Tim Hayward (who clearly has tried):

Although it is not illegal to sell or eat horse in the UK, it is easier to obtain ostrich, zebra or kudu for those of us who have tried. Getting horse into a burger here requires the same level of negligence or fraud as getting dog or rat meat into it.

There's something weird about Tesco's production line starting off like a Hieronymus Bosch painting, rife with smuggled horses, kudu and clumsy children, and ending in a lab, poured over expensively by molecular scientists - "Aha! Zebra DNA! Thank God we're finally doing something to get them out of our burgers. Nifty fuckers". There must be a better way.

Horse burger scandal drags on. Photograph: Getty Images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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