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The British reaction to the horsemeat scandal in which Romania has been unjustly accused, before the completion of a probe that will unveil the true culprits, shows that the Brits are far from getting rid of stereotypes. Someone who is not aware of the realities of our country and also ignores the traditional approach of British media, unfortunately not just the tabloids who favour gross drama over facts and fiction – as creative as it may be – over the verified and corroborated information, would have an appalling image of Romania, based just on press stories. For the British public, already intoxicated by the anti-Romanian campaign which describes our fellow nationals as a semi-barbaric people waiting in block-starts to ‘invade’ the United Kingdom when labour restrictions will be lifted at the end of this year, the horsemeat scandal only worsens the fear and aversion towards Romanians. Judging by what ‘The Sun’ has reported, 29 million Romanians and Bulgarians are already queuing at borders, waiting for January 1, 2014 to invade the United Kingdom. Naturally, for someone who is even remotely aware of the real situation, the fact that the British tabloid pretended being able to report this in exclusivity seems hilarious. Unfortunately, this kind of story is multiplied these days also by the quality press, and is part of a larger and more dangerous campaign waged by some British politicians against the ‘immigrants’ from Romania and Bulgaria. From this perspective, the intervention of Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean on the BBC earlier this week, as a reaction to the negative campaign against Romania and to the immense pressure put on the Cameron Cabinet to limit the number of Romanian workers on the labour market of Great Britain is more than welcome and should show the real image of things.
“Romanians are not immigrants; they are European citizens with full rights”. “This type of debate in British society is quite surprising and we regret it (…). It’s quite enough.”
Although the Romanian premier announced, ever since Monday, that Romanian authorities checked all available data in the horsemeat case, also with regard to how the meat was processed, and did not identify any problem so far, the British press doubts the words of Victor Ponta and continues to claim that Romania is the source of the horsemeat labelled as beef.
To counter a negative campaign of such scale, Bucharest needs a much stronger PR campaign than the statements of its Foreign minister, premier, or the ambassador in London, and this should include publishing answers to all the untrue articles that are flooding the British press these days, while also seeking compensation for the damages caused to the image of the country. Some would see this as a slightly exaggerated measure, but it matches the huge lies told in some articles and headlines, such as:
“Romania livestock ‘Aids’ fear – HORSES in Romania are commonly infected with a killer disease which is similar to AIDS in humans” (The Sun, February 11);
“After a life of hard labour, the butcher’s knife awaits: The thousands of horses being slaughtered for their meat in Romania for a £100 a time” (Mail Online, February 11)
“Horse meat scandal: How horses slaughtered in Romania end up on British plates” (The Telegraph, February 10)
“The wild bunch: Romanian gangs buy horses for just £10 and send them to slaughter” (The Mirror, February 10)
“Yes we sold horse – but it was labelled correctly: Suspicions focus on abattoir linked to Romanian minister, Questions have been raised about a potential conflict of interest over family firm of millionaire Valentin Soneriu (The Independent, February 11)
All these articles present an amalgam of partial and unverified information, suppositions which recycle old stories (such as prohibiting live horse exports three years ago because of infestation with infectious anaemia) mentioning, in most cases, only at the end the position of Romanian authorities and giving readers – of which many only read the headlines and already form an opinion – the impression that Romania is the source of the horsemeat found in the Findus frozen lasagne.
An even more serious consequence, the impression given by some articles is that, in Romania, horses suffering with infectious anaemia and horses that are victim to brutal treatments (The Mirror illustrates the story with the photograph of a horse barely able to stand and with blood at the mouth) are sold to abattoirs with the complicity of veterinarians that issue health certificates, and then abattoirs export the meat. Moreover, according to the article, in Romania poverty pushes farmers to sell their horses and Romanian authorities seem reluctant to investigate these cases or take measures against those who illegally sell horsemeat as beef, despite the assurances provided by PM Victor Ponta.
“Romanian and Polish meat providers are supposed to comply with the same European-wide rules as British farmers, but it is up to authorities in individual members states to enforce these regulations. There is concern the Romanian authorities will have little resources or appetite to pursue suppliers responsible for contaminating British food,” wrote The Telegraph. Although a probe conducted by Romanian authorities invalidates the allegations of The Telegraph and other British newspapers, a strange twist of irony brings into derision those who always seek the culprits among the most vulnerable – as the premier said – countries with a poor PR policy. Proof has surfaced that precisely those who preach us about European norms fail to observe them, after British police found in the UK two abattoirs where horsemeat was being labelled as beef. Maybe, sometimes, those who cast the first stone should think twice and clean their own yard.
The deeds presented with so much horror to the British public happen in their own country. In Romania, about 7,000 horses are killed in abattoirs each year, and their meat is exported, while in the UK the figure amounts to 8,000, according to the Romanian ambassador in London, Ion Jinga. The Romanian horses that suffer with infectious anaemia are indeed killed in abattoirs, but this does not mean that their meat is exported. This is norm, and this also happened in Great Britain (Devon and Cornwall), where ill horses were killed as well.
This being said, it is equally true that Romania is by no means a heaven of food safety, but this can be said about any country of the European Union, if we just recollect the beef scandal in the UK, or the Polish eggs, or the cucumbers contaminated with E.Coli, unjustly blamed on Spanish farmers a.s.o. In Romania, too, suspect products have been discovered and withdrawn from shelf, but generalising this and presenting suppositions and fantasies as true information can have dramatic consequences for Romanian producers, especially in such a difficult economic climate.