The horsemeat scandal was a dark moment for the British food industry, and the meat industry in particular. The episode was wholly inglorious, exposing raw crime, and shocking consumers across the UK and further afield. The scandal was particularly challenging for Tesco, which probably unfairly took the major rap for product withdrawals that involved other retailers to a significant degree too.
It is clearly difficult to get on top of determined criminals. However, what the horsemeat scandal revealed was a complex web of interactions in the supply chains of supposedly sophisticated manufacturers, some of which were proprietary brand ownerssupplying the major supermarkets. Indeed, the number of parties with their fingers in the pies of some pretty basic processed meat products was quite astonishing, in some cases covering participants in many countries across Europe.
“The report should be a reminder to retailers and consumers alike”
The Food Standards Agency also looked totally out of touch throughout this episode, to us highly reminiscent of scenes familiar to Malcolm Tucker. True to stereotypes and to form, the bureaucrats spent more time defending their own positions rather than protecting the consumer and the reputation of an important industry.
From this gloom and chaos we now have the final Elliott report, produced by one of the world’s most eminent food scientists. The FSA, the government and the industry would do well to embrace it. Time allows one to forget the sense of crisis that surrounded the horsemeat scandal, but its cost was enormous. Beyond the Elliott report’s precise recommendations, we believe the case for strong traceability and simple supply chains was underscored, which should enhance the competitiveness of British produce.
At the time of the crisis, British supermarkets made a number of pledges to procure more home-produced meat, not just for fresh products but for frozen and processed meat too. The Elliott report should be a reminder to retailers and consumers alike not to allow forgetfulness to possibly permit criminals and regulatory ineffectiveness to return to tarnish the reputation of an important industry again.
Dr Clive Black is a director at Shore Capital Stockbrokers