What’s wrong with horsemeat?

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I suspect that there are plenty of people around the world who are astonished at the furore that has arisen in the UK over the discovery of horsemeat in burgers.

After all, horsemeat is perfectly nutritious – and is commonly eaten elsewhere in Europe. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, several hundred thousand tonnes of horsemeat are imported to the European Union, primarily from Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. This is in addition to the tens of thousands of horses that are slaughtered for human consumption within the EU itself.

So it would be easy to dismiss this simply as British squeamishness. But putting that aside, the real issue here is that a burger that is sold as beef should contain beef and nothing but beef.

And the fact that other animal products are turning up is a supply chain issue. The most high profile retailer affected has been Tesco. In a statement last week, Tesco made it clear that its frozen burger supplier, Silvercrest, had used meat that did not come from Tesco’s list of approved suppliers. “Nor was the meat from the UK or Ireland, despite our instruction that only beef from the UK and Ireland should be used in our frozen beef burgers,” is said.

Not surprisingly, Tesco sacked that supplier. And it is putting in place a system of DNA testing to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

The question that has not been answered is why the supplier did this. What kind of pressures were the management under? And what kind of checks were there to ensure the integrity of the product?

All that ABP, owner of the Silvercrest facility, would say was that it had implemented “total management change” at the facility. “We have learnt important lessons from this incident and we are determined to ensure that this never happens again,” said Paul Finnerty, ABP Food group chief executive.

Over the past few years, companies as diverse as Mattel, Apple and Nike have run into problems managing suppliers in extended supply chains. It’s clear from this latest episode that there are still lessons to be learnt, and more work to be done in defining relationships between supply chain partners.

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