Food Safety: The 2013 British horsemeat scandal could re-occur

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The Possible Re-occurrence of a Horsemeat Scandal

Introduction

The purpose here is to argue that the British horse-meat scandal of 2013 could happen again in the near future.

The horse meat scandal

The horse meat scandal was when meat labelled as beef actually contained horse meat. Food inspection, using DNA tests, showed that horse meat was present in beef products. A significant concern from the scandal was that the supermarkets were unable to effectively manage their suppliers and the suppliers production processes. Some major shops were unable to remove fraudulent food products from their supply chains.

Supermarkets would suggest that a reason for the their domination, of British food retail, is that they are better at managing their supply chains than cheaper market stalls. However, a lesson from the horse meat scandal is that, arguably, the supermarkets are no better than butchers operating in covered markets; such as Newcastle’s Grainger Market.

The challenge for business and state regulation

The food industry has been unable to regulate itself to meet consumer needs. Consumer needs can be defined as the customer needing to have confidence that what they read on the label is accurate.

The inability of business to regulate itself places on a burden on the state to intervene. A burden which the state has been unable to manage, given that it was inadequate inspections of the food supply chain, which was partly responsible for the scandal. The Food Standards Agency did not know how many consumers were affected by the horse meat situation. Consequently, the public did not know how many people were affected.

Lessons are unlikely to be learnt

The government felt that lessons needed to be learnt from the horse meat scandal. A government funded university report stated that food safety should be put above all other considerations. However, this objective is unlikely to be achieved. There have been policy changes to allow the big supermarkets to again regulate their own food safety policies. This is an approach which should be opposed given that a decrease in regulation could lead to the occurrence of another food safety scandal.

What needs to be done?

The government needs to do undertake more testing for horsemeat in meat products. This would need to examine a wider range of meats than just beef. Pork and chicken need to be examined to find out whether there is cross-contamination of horse with other meats. The problem is that the government may believe that it does not have the resources to fully oversee the food supply chain. In this context, it would not be a surprise if another horse meat scandal happens again. An underfunded food surveillance system could allow food fraud to reach the consumer.

Implications for food safety

The situation described is one of fraud and a lack of proper surveillance of the food system. However, the veterinary drug has been used to treat horses. The concern is over whether bute was present in British meat products and the level of any contamination.

Update

In 2017, there are still concerns about hygiene in abattoirs.

Channel Four News videos:

Horse meat scandal hits Findus (7 Feb 2013)

Horsemeat scandal: Owen Paterson interview (8 Feb 2013)

Horsemeat scandal: Owen Paterson interview (8 Feb 2013)

Horsemeat scandal: Food Standards Agency interview (8 Feb 2013)

Horsemeat scandal: what are we eating? 8 Feb 2013

McDonald's and the horsemeat issue

Channel 4 News: Horsemeat scandal: what are we eating?

BBC Radio 4: File on 4: Food Fraud - A year after the horsemeat scandal ...

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