Quality testing and fundamental flaws in supply chains. Hilary Ross, partner and head of food at business law firm DWF ponders the challenges for food producers in the wake of January's discovery of horse meat in burgers produced in Ireland.
10 million burgers recalled and calls made in Parliament for prosecutions – UK retailers and Irish meat producers have become the whipping boys of a media frenzy.
However, little consideration is being given to why the issues arose, or the current due diligence procedures and if they can be improved. This has put UK industry and its regulators under extreme pressure to provide a sound bite solution.
Yet there is currently no evidence to suggest the presence of horse meat in beefburgers arose from the practices of processors in Ireland or the UK. They don’t process horse meat, so its presence is unlikely to have originated from their premises. Investigations need to be made into their suppliers, which appear to be based in mainland Europe where horse meat is regularly consumed.
Current quality testing has not regularly involved DNA testing, which is neither a legal requirement nor an industry norm. While random testing for foreign meat proteins can be made a standard, it does not address the issue of why horse meat was present in the first place. Was it the careless hygiene practices of the suppliers or malfeasance? Both are indicative of a fundamental problem in the supply chain and will be equally worrying for the UK and Irish businesses affected.
Devising proportionate and reasonable systems for testing the authenticity of meat will prove problematic for the food industry. With no one approved methodology for testing authenticity, there are uncertainties regarding the reliability and standard of testing, for example, which third party companies can carry it out and how much it will cost. In any event, additional testing is only a monitoring tool that cannot guarantee the problem won’t arise again.
There is no quick fix to this and it’s in no-one’s interest to rush the process.