After dominating the headlines for the past week, initial outrage over the horse meat scandal subsided (somewhat) this week, and with precautionary measures in place, the industry can now start to assess the longer-term actions that must be taken.
It is important that they take their time. Increased DNA testing is certain to be near the top of the agenda - and TV stations as well as supermarket chains have reportedly inundated laboratories with follow-up test requests - but as we explain, the case for extensive DNA testing is not only hugely expensive, but far from straightforward.
DNA testing is a crowd pleaser. And consumers are unlikely to accept, right now, a defence based on received wisdom surrounding otherwise excellent standards set by the industry, any more than they can be expected to react with equanimity (or equinimity) to complex risk management assessments.
“The case for extensive DNA testing is not only hugely expensive, but far from straightforward”
Adam Leyland, Editor
On the other hand, consumers would find it every bit as distasteful if the cost of meat were to rise significantly in order to guarantee even the most miniscule traces of rogue DNA were eliminated. Rather than rushing into extensive commitments, this is a time for the industry to hold its nerve. As the investigations continue, it may turn out there is a place for more systems and checks and risk control procedures. But the industry can’t be expected to test everything. DNA is at best a starting point. It is certainly not the whole solution.
In the meantime, there’s evidently been more industry head-scratching over a solution to the no-less-costly minimum alcohol pricing proposals. But the situation could not be more different. With several industry big hitters finally uniting behind a new campaign next week to try to ‘kill’ the government’s plans, the ‘Why Should We Pay More?’ campaign will come just nine days before the consultation ends. And while there may still be some time before the government publishes its official response in April, there’s currently nothing like the sense of public outrage over minimum pricing that greeted pastygate, let alone horsegate. Or to put it another way, there’s a lot riding on this campaign to, er, whip up support.