If you’re in Europe at the moment, you’ve probably already heard lots of about the recent horse scandal that has came to light over the last month. Tesco, Morrisions, Ikea and even Sedexo, a food servicing company that runs cafeterias for students in schools, have been found to be selling beef products that aren’t as beefy as the packaging might suggest. Significant traces of horse meat was found in beef products; in some cases, there was more horse than beef. Since the revelations, there’s been an outcry over food standards and regulations. The fact that a crisis like this happened in the first place does not surprise me at all. When you consider the lack of regulation and oversight, it’s quiet easy to include a crisis like this as almost inevitable.
Most people don’t understand how complex the supply chains are in our economy. If you were asked how your food got onto your plate, I think that you’d finish your answer with ‘from the supermarket’. Ultimately, we don’t have a clue what goes on behind the supermarkets. Where does the meat come from? Who transports the products? What region? What country? I wouldn’t be able to confidently answer any of these questions. This worries me. This worries me a lot. We need to start asking the questions that we’ve ignored for so long. Who exactly is monitoring the supply and distribution chains? I expect the answer to that will be nobody.
If there is no official body that is monitoring the supply chain, all the way from the farm to the supermarket, then how on earth can we even say that what we’re eating is totally safe for consumption? Horse burgers have probably been sold as beef burgers and we’ve only just noticed when this has probably been going on for years. If it’s that easy to sell horse as beef, then what is to say that there aren’t dangerous substances in the food we’re eating right now. Furthermore, do we understand the long-term effects of eating the things we’re eating?
As a result of the exposure of these supermarkets, we’ve seen a complete drop in consumer confidence. We put lots of trust in the supermarkets by using them to purchase almost all of the things that we rely on. This scandal has destroyed that trust and we’ve now started seeing a huge plunge in the purchases of cheaper meat products. The challenge for the supermarkets is to prove that they’re in control and can certify the quality and contents of all it’s products. While they try and send that message to the consumers, these same supermarkets are pleading to the authorities that they had absolutely no idea about what was going on. These are supermarkets are among the richest corporations in the world; they hire industry-leading analysts and observers. They are claiming they knew nothing about the horse? If they couldn’t find such a shocking issue such as this one, then how on earth can the consumer regain their confidence?
The short answer to all these questions is no. The problem in this crisis is the lack of understanding. Nobody seems to have a clear and concise picture of how our food is being sourced. Our society is becoming more complex and more advanced, however I feel that within this complexity – we are losing track of lots of really important things. A little bit of horse in our burgers is certainly won’t be the worst of issues that come to light. I predict that similar labeling issues will become apparent over the next few months/years and we’ll start to become more to grips with the severity of the situation.