This blog is currently on hiatus owing to work commitments. Whilst I still keep an eye on the goings on at RiAus, and contribute to the work of the good folks at eLife, little will be added to this blog for the foreseeable future. Simon Says remains open for business, albeit at a reduced capacity. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope the archive of content found here will prove to be of interest.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

But How Do They Know? | Courses of Horsies

EMBERS glow, flames flicker and on go the burgers: patties of prime, premium (and lesser) cow bits squished together in a juicy, fatty disc to be wedged, burnt bits and all, between two pieces of near-stale 'bread', lashings of tomato ketchup and accompanied by a token splodge of potato salad. Ah, the joy of the summer barbecue.

Hold on. You did say 'beef' burger, right?
Source: me

This week the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) published results of tests on beef products on sale in a number of supermarkets in the UK and Republic of Ireland, discovering traces of pork and horse meat in beef burgers and pork in other beef products. In one case, in Tesco Everyday Value Beef Burgers, the product was found to be 29.1% horse meat. The case has proved an embarrassment for the food manufacturers involved and for Tesco, Aldi, Lidl, Iceland and Dunnes Stores, and has ignited a number of debates. Is it ethical to eat horse, ask some? Why did the UK's Food Standards Agency not spot these discrepancies? What failings occurred in quality and supply chain control that allowed this to happen?

I can't answer any of those. But I can answer this: how do they know those burgers contain horse? How can you take a burger, pulverize it and identify the species it is composed of? Welcome to the world of Food Forensics.

Thursday, 3 January 2013


Giant rubber duck at Sydney Festival

"Consider the following: In nature, there are 142 known species of Anseriformes, the order to which ducks, swans and geese belong. Of those species, only one, the white Pekin duck, a domesticated breed of mallard, produces spotless yellow ducklings. Since the invention of plastic, four known species of Anseriforme have gone extinct; several others survive only in sanctuaries created to save them. Meanwhile, by the estimates of an American sociologist of Chinese descent named Charlotte Lee, who owns the largest duckie collection in the world, the makers of novelties and toys have concocted around ten thousand varieties of rubber duck, nearly all of which are yellow, and most of which are not in fact made of rubber, nor like the Floatees from polyethylene, but from plasticized polyvinyl chloride, a derivative of coal. Why has man just these species of things for his neighbours, a latter-day Thoreau might ask; as if nothing but a yellow duck could perch on the rim of a tub?"