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.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.