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TB-infected beef sold back into UK food chain by DeFRA

30 Jun

cow2JPGAccording to the Sunday Times today, DeFRA – The UK government’s Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs – has been selling diseased cattle meat to caterers who supply hospitals, schools and the armed forces.

They have bought the carcasses of cattle infected with bovine tuberculosis and sold them back into the food chain.

Despite concerns by several agencies, Defra sees no wrong in its actions.

“We are the UK government department responsible for policy and regulations on environmental, food and rural issues. Our priorities are to grow the rural economy, improve the environment and safeguard animal and plant health.”

The above quote is from their website.

DeFRA recently charred its already dirty reputation with most Brits by shrugging off the scandal of horse meat appearing in beef products. When the news broke in Europe, DeFRA’s head of public affairs legged it over to France for an ‘important meeting’ and laid low. As the full extent of corruption in the food chain was revealed over following weeks, DeFRA seemed curiously detached from the situation.

Is it not puzzling that a Ministerial Department responsible for regulating and monitoring the food supply chain in the UK should

*decline to take leadership in a contamination crisis?

*generate approximately $14m revenue by purchasing and selling diseased cattle meat into the human food chain?

*not mention anything in its mission statement (above) about human welfare – any duty to citizens and consumers?

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Perhaps, their point is that their priority is to maintain the wealth and prosperity of those who own the fields and the cows. That they are not concerned with any consequential issues. Not concerned with issues relating to health and the possible spread of disease – however small.

But in a political era where the UK government has fostered exaggerated fears of terrorism, economic uncertainty, financial insecurity and invasion of privacy among its citizens, is it not strange that one of its own departments intentionally sells tens of thousands of tons of meat from diseased cattle into its own country’s food chain?

It does not take a conspiracy theorist to notice that DeFRA have again expressed not one single concern at their wildly indefensible actions while the Press and public are again outraged. Once more, actions that are highly likely to cause distress and concern among the public have come from…a government department. 

Can DeFRA’s actions really have been the result of ignorance and innocence as to the risks being taken with the public’s health and wellbeing?

The Sunday Times quotes DeFRA’s chief scientist Ian Boyd warning that bTB (bovine Tuberculosis) could “spill over” to pets and “potentially to humans”.

M bovis, the bacterium that causes bTB can survive cooking up to 60C. – source: Sunday Times, 30th June 2013

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Car Auctions: Meeting that certain “someone”.

9 Apr

“Are you loaned some, tonight?” – Elvis Presley.  “What the world needs now is love, sweet love” – Tupak Shakur.  “Chillin’ by the fire while we are eating fondue” – Justin Bieber.

Which of these lyrics were actually sung by the artist? If you are over 25, you will instinctively know the dreadful truth.

Justin Bieber is lacking the knowledge that fondue sets come with built-in heaters. Fondue is molten cheese, ferrchrissakes. He will need to find a woman who is madder than a box of frogs to join him in eating that stuff in front of a fire. As a good way to ‘chill’, it compares only to ordering delivery of  a Vindaloo curry while you sit in a broken down truck in the Syrian desert, wearing a Shetland wool pullover.  Special knowledge is valuable.

Okay, tonight is the night I conclude this mini-series examining whether car auctions are the “Night Clubs for the over-25s” .

“Hang on…” I hear you say, “So far, this series of posts has been just a pile of disjointed rhetoric, short on worthwhile facts and reeking of bitterness.”

This is why I love you so much. You are smart, intelligent, good-looking and yet you still  hang around here. Trust me – I shall tie all the threads together and you shall be witness to some genuinely valuable truths. I shall repay your trust. I’ll even include pictures of a cat, some slurp-inducing food I cooked and also, a Surrey Policeman caught in the act of not being “institutionally racist”. (actually, that one might be difficult to get hold of)

Just imagine for a moment that you are a Party-Planner to the celebrity ‘A’ – list top names. Your reputation is so high that even Madonna says “please” in a begging whine when she phones you and wants to book you. You are the Goddess or God of Uber-cool. You cannot even remember the last time that a car door wasn’t opened ahead of you before you had to reach for the door handle yourself.

Airlines always find a ‘special channel’ that you can walk through at Customs and Immigration so that you never have to put your shoes in a plastic tray while total strangers scan your heels for the tell-tale signs of dry skin.The in-flight hospitality caters for your preference for a stone-crushed basil dressing on your hand-knitted fresh egg pasta, brought directly to you this morning from North Dakota via Jet Blue in chilled stainless steel panniers.

Okay. Now consider that you actually need to work damn hard to pay your bills. You hate to waste your money. You seek the best value from it. Life is uncertain. You need the best advice. Information is only valuable if it is not common knowledge. Just like that top Party Planner uses their contacts and special knowledge to help other people spend their  money on a good party, you have to do the same to save your money on a good car.

Below are some facts and figures that may be interesting to you.  Over the previous posts, I have been trying to get you to feel comfortable about buying a car at an auction. Car auctions are coming of age.  Like Google and YouTube before them, they are moving in from the sidelines of our lives and walking into the centre of the playing field. They are not just taking over the industry, they are about to engulf it and forever re-shape it. Look at the comparisons below for a ‘time-line comparison:

February 2004 Facebook was launched.

January 2009 Facebook was ranked as having the most users of any social networking site in the world.

January 2012 Facebook peaked in market value as the world’s most-used social website, less than 8 years after its inception.

In other words, within short 8 years, a brand new means of mass communication previously unknown to the world had risen to become a household name and a ‘normal’ means of communication.

Well, in the next five years, car auctions may well become the way that we all buy our cars. Dealers will simply handle servicing and delivery and sales of new cars. Auctions have been lurking in the background for decades. Serving the motor trade forecourts, they have quietly shifted cars back and forth, providing the dealers with the cars that they will sell on to you. Now, they’re removing the pretense. They are selling any car to anyone who turns up on the day. You do not have to be a dealer.

Now, data systems, particularly internet-based, have allowed the big car auction houses to monitor the service history and ownership and insurance details of cars that are leased or have hire-purchase or loans attached to them. That is a whole lot of cars. In the end, there is a high chance that these cars will turn up to the auction house. Some turn up several times throughout their life, as they pass from dealer to customer to dealer again.

America’s Mannheim Auctions are offering over 130,000 cars for sale across U.S. sites this week alone. They handled an average of one million vehicles each month throughout 2010 across all their world sites. Around six million cars are sold each year through them in the  U.S. and despite their ‘traders only’ image, they are actually quite willing to serve private buyers. They just don’t shout about it.

BCA, Europe’s largest “re-marketing” and auction company is offering over 12,000 cars this week. Proportionately smaller but fast growing outlets across the whole of Continental Europe, BCA make no secret of their willingness to serve anyone who has a credit or debit card. You are most welcome.

Now, look at this link to the Wall Street Journal. The latest figures for new car sales in America. To save your head spinning with all the detailed figures, I will provide you with a simple synopsis:

Large American-made luxury cars are dead in the water, with luxury SUV’s following them into the surf, along with imported Japanese light trucks. Small and medium sized cars are keeping strong sales but mid-range imported cars are wobbling as America’s home-grown manufacturers slash prices and offer tasty incentives. Manufacturing output is largely stable, even though fuel prices are going up through the ceiling again.

The picture is broadly repeated for Western Europe. New car output total volume is still robust and sales incentives are keen but deceptive – dealers are wherever possible adding extras instead of cutting prices. So, despite the fact that we ordinary people  have less money to spend, manufacturers are pumping out new cars. This is leading to over-supply.

And quietly, in the background, Mannheim and BCA are selling off all those manufacturer’s two, three and four year old cars at whatever they can get. The auction houses do not care what the actual price is – they earn their money by simply selling and getting the commission. The actual selling price is less of an issue to them. They don’t have many skilled staff, they don’t run production lines, don’t have factories or dealerships and they hardly spend at all on advertising. They simply find buyers for second-hand cars. They have acres and acres of those second-hand cars parked up, with more arriving by the hour. They cannot move for second-hand cars. Do I make myself clear? There is a strong case to argue that new car prices are being unrealistically propped up and that new cars are over-priced.

Auction houses particularly welcome private buyers because they make extra money from them. A private buyer will normally buy at a slightly higher price than a dealer and doesn’t qualify for the dealer’s discount for buying multiple vehicles.

So, with your new found confidence in strolling in to auction houses, it shouldn’t be too hard. You have learned how to ‘squint’ at paintwork, how to steal all the tips off dealers by watching them check over a car for you. You have learned that all the action at an auction really takes place out in the yard, where you can check over ‘your’ car to your heart’s content just so long as you have a keen eye.

You have learned to check your prices and exact specification in the press and online in advance and then compare that to the written description posted on the car’s windscreen. You have learned that you must be there when the car is started up to check for smoke and to pop your head under the bonnet.

What are you looking for? You are looking for the tell-tale signs of things having been disturbed: if someone has just put a new exhaust manifold on because the cylinder head has been removed or replaced, then their spanners will have left shiny marks on the bolts and nuts that secure everything in place. These are very hard to hide. Cross-head screws will glint silver in their centers, where the screw-driver chewed them. If the car has just had a new radiator, the radiator will look new but also the spanner marks will show on the bolts that hold it to the car. If everything is covered in dust, leaks will show up more easily through staining and soaked in wetness. If everything is squeaky clean, those nuts, bolts and screws will still reveal marks on them from sockets and spanners if they have been touched at all recently.

95% of cars at a big auction are of the same standard as any other second-hand car. The money you save in comparison to buying the car at a dealer can be used to solve problems you may encounter, like a poor battery, new brake pads. All things that a dealer won’t fix for free anyway.

Ah, I hear you say that it is risky buying from an auction and you don’t get a warranty. Really? Have you read the small print? Have you compared a dealer’s warranty on a second-hand car to the latest auction warranty and sales conditions? Most so-called ‘mechanical warranties’ available are almost worthless, excluding those items that are most likely to fail or else including them…except if their failure could be caused by a connected but uninsured item.

So, your hugely expensive ECU is included…except it isn’t actually, because it was connected to the battery when it failed and the battery is not included. At an auction, cars are either sold with a specific warranty or else without but you may be surprised: many auctions flat refuse to warrant cars over five years or under a certain price so you can pick up a perfectly good car for peanuts simply because a lack of warranty deterred others from taking a risk on bidding.

Ah, I hear you say that you cannot test drive a car at an auction. Well, in many cases you can and in general, it makes little difference whether you are watching the car being driven in front of you to the podium or driving it yourself. Cars suffer more from electrical problems than mechanical ones these days and 99% of those can be checked before you bid on them. Service history documents are often available to peruse at the counter on auction day and time exists to press buttons and check that warning lights go out or come on as they should.

Ah, I hear you say that the cars on a dealer’s forecourt are of a better quality. Are they? One or two might be, but the cars at an auction that are coming directly from a leasing company are mainly coming directly off the road. Nobody has the time or inclination to mess with their mileages or fake their service history. Many dealers do habitually mess with mileages and absolutely lie through their teeth about servicing histories. They simply put a sticker on the dashboard saying “mileage not warranted” and then dishonestly explain to you that “the law makes them do that to protect themselves”. It doesn’t. They are lying. At auction, cars have warranted mileage. Some don’t and they are specifically stated as such. Take your pick. Both ways, you pay less money and don’t have to suffer all the outrageous bull…

Ah, but some cars could be stolen or rebuilt after a crash. Nope. Established auction houses refuse “Stolen/Recovered” cars or those rebuilt after a serious insurance claim outright. They simply don’t want the ensuing problems and hassle. Occasionally one will come through but the auctioneer will make it absolutely clear that this is the case.  Dealers put some of their forecourt cars in to the auctions because they cannot sell them and they buy others to replace them. It is called ‘rotating stock’. But even then, both that dealer and the auction are legally responsible for any dishonesty and neither want to run that risk. It simply isn’t worth it when you have thousands of cars to sell. Occasionally, we all get caught out and buy a ‘turkey’ from a private seller, a dealer or an auction. There is always that risk.

Ah, but my local dealer only sells selected, low-mileage, top quality second-hand cars. Right. Where does he get them all from? An endless queue of retired and suddenly disabled headmistresses and nurses, all of whom coincidentally decide to ring him and ask him if he’ll buy their car because he’s so damned honest?

Ah…

Car auctions really are the new Night Clubs. The environment is exciting and noisy. The atmosphere is charged but far more pleasant. There are quiet areas and noisy areas. Nobody ever gets off with a club DJ but the DJ can make their night. It is the same with auctioneers. Both car auctions and clubs are only ever fun for the first two hours. But a night club takes your money and gives you only memories, if that. An auction can give you a massive discount on a totally fine set of wheels.

Those twenty-odd seconds where you actually get to bid are always an amazing adrenaline rush. When the auctioneer cracks his hammer down as he nods his head to you, all that homework you did will have paid off and you will have saved yourself enough for quite a few vodkas or tequilas…or even a damn fine vacation.

my beloved cat, Biggs, checking out her world...

meatballs in an olive, anchovy and tomato sauce with parmesan. Drool...

The importance of serving toast correctly

7 Feb

156toastprius

It is 06.47 on a Tuesday morning in Autumn. The timing is important to me. It means that I have two minutes to pull my car over to the side of the long driveway that leads to the hotel. Then, out of public view, I can make sure that the side doors where the passengers will get in are still clean.

The rest of the car can wait. This Toyota Prius was hand washed only fifty miles ago but it already has a fine mist of damp cow dung and clay stuck to it from the last three miles of country road. Sometimes, this damned Prius gets washed twice a day. This is England. England is green and pleasant because it rains a lot.

There  is a finger mark on the back door handle so I polish it away with a tissue, get back in and select ‘Drive’. Six minutes to seven. I have been on the hotel’s CCTV since I turned in from the main road so now the receptionist will be telling the doorman that I am approaching. She likes the chauffeurs who pull over and check their car before advancing into her domain.

As I glide out from beneath the blue misty gloom of the trees that line the drive, the great house appears, lit silver and brass by the dawn sun. Its solid  lines dominate the cow draped pastures before it and one knows without doubt that this is how it was intended to be first seen by its visitors. The finest stone and brick faces outwards, protecting the whitest bedsheets and towels from those who have no business within.

The digital clock on my dash changes to 06.55 as I coast the last fifty metres on electric power towards the giant front door where a valet stands, staring intently towards me. On the raked circle of gravel ahead of me, a silver Mercedes S-Class is loading. Its passengers wait while the driver rushes to open the rear doors and let them inside. I brake to a halt early and flash my dipped headlights at the doorman. He raises one finger in acknowledgement from his white gloved hand to bid me to stop and wait. He brushes his electric blue waistcoat and turns to look to the valet who stands at the top of the great stone steps at the front of the house.

I recognise the driver of the Mercedes. His name is Eric. Eric used to be in business with my boss. Now, he is not. I can guess why. Eric is snatching the cases from the pea-shingle drive and stacking them in the back. He shuts the tailgate and strides round to get in behind the wheel. I can see his passengers settling in the back seat and then Eric is rolling, hard right lock, his headlights reflecting off the low stone wall that make his turn so tight.

The gardener stands with his rake and watches in case Eric’s turn requires the grains of pea shingle to be restored. I take my foot off the brake and roll forward to the Portland stone doorway. The doorman now looks to me, pointing downwards with his finger to exactly where he wishes me to position myself  beside his perfect shoes. I catch a glimpse of Eric’s intense and reddened face as he drives by. He glares ahead to the darkness of the beckoning trees.

I push the button and my window glass drops with a whir and the cold air creeps in. The doorman bows towards me and stares into my eyes. I set the parking brake with my foot.

“Having fun…?” I make a cheesy grin up towards him. His mouth is already forming his first words to me but he stops and straightens, looking back to the house. I can hear the valet’s voice. The doorman nods and then bows to me again. He speaks.

“No, I am not. Go round again. We are all out of sequence now…” The frustration in his voice makes me click the handbrake off without delay but his gloved hands still hold on to my door so I keep my foot on the brake.

“Give way to the black BMW that is just arriving, come in back here as soon as he goes, yes…?”

“Yes.” I make to move away but he still keeps his hands on my door. I look back at him. He is staring after Eric’s Merc. He speaks softly.

“That couple…” He struggles for words. “…they got drunk last night and then cancelled Eric’s car. Then, this morning they start screaming at us, asking where he is. They couldn’t remember a thing. Eric only just raced back from Heathrow now. They only had to wait half an hour but…my god…they made sure that everybody knew!”  He stares at me.

“Now…” he continues,  “…I have a gentleman who ordered that BMW for seven fifteen and then changed it to seven…then I do you…”

“What about my seven o’clock…?” I ask.

“She’s just enjoying her toast.” He makes a cheesy grin back to me and he winks. He drops his gloved hands from my door and gives me a dry smile. “Go, go, go…”

A black BMW 740 is approaching fast in my mirror and I glide out of  its path, swinging right lock as it stops on the gravel where I waited a second before. The doorman bows forward to the driver and speaks with him. I drive off and turn again in the staff car park. I wonder how long it takes to eat toast and if I can get a little more door cleaning fitted in.

A warning light in my head tells me not to stop and I swing back into the arrival point for the second time. It is just as well that I do because the black BMW 740 is just pulling away with the  gentleman  inside. The doorman stands, pointing to the ground by his feet, giving me a stiff nod. I coast up and stop a second time.

“Here she comes. One suitcase. Get the door for her and I’ll load you.”

I leap out as he strides to the tailgate. The great hotel facade reflects in the gloss black paintwork of my car. There is a patch of manure and straw stuck on the freshly waxed rear tyre. I scoot around the car and I pull my new passenger’s door open and she gets in without breaking her step or acknowledging me.

The doorman helps the valet who is struggling to fit her huge suitcase in over the lip of the tailgate. I close her door and I pull the boot lid down. A white Range Rover appears behind us and stops short, waiting for me to leave. Two slim businessmen are now standing in the hotel doorway, flanked by the valet and the doorman. They are holding identical carbon fiber briefcases and both wear a small enamel lapel badge, probably identifying their employer or the private society to whom they belong. They are glaring with disapproval towards me. I am in their way.

I pull full right lock and I am facing back to the long avenue of trees that line the drive. The Range Rover pulls up in my vacated space and the parking valet leaps out, holding the door for the two men who get in the front and slip sunglasses on in unison.

I greet my passenger.

“Good morning…!” I try to sound as welcoming as possible. ” Heathrow, terminal five..?”

I haven’t noticed that she has already got her earpieces in and is making calls on her Blackberry. She cradles it in her lap. Her crisp voice cuts across my last words.

“David, its me. Do Vogue America have our proposal on their desk…? Good…I’m in the car going to Heathrow now, so they only have forty minutes to speak to me…”

I curse myself in silence for my failure to spot the white wires that snake up the side of her neck into her blond hair. I push the car hard down the narrow drive. This will make it float better over the bumps and it will also show her that I am not wasting my time. The fallen leaves swirl behind us, sucked up by the car and left to tumble in wait for the Range Rover. I don’t want the two spooks in the Range Rover crowding my rear end at the junction.

Far ahead, a black Chrysler pulls over into the passing bay, flashing me to let me know that I have priority.

“Well…that is their problem, David. Make them sweat and I’ll call you when I am in the air…lousy…book me in somewhere else  next time David…dreadful….the toast was cold again…yes…I had to send it back twice, would you believe…?…I don’t care, David, anywhere that understands how to serve toast…”

I flash my headlights to the Chrysler as I pass him and I begin to brake for the cattle grid at the gate house.

She settles back in her seat and looks out of her window.

© 2012 and 2014 Loop Withers   Roadwax.com

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