Corruption in the meat and fish supply chains

By Dr Peter Fellows

- Last updated on GMT

Dr Peter Fellows
Dr Peter Fellows

Related tags: Meat, Europe

‘Late last year, news emerged of corruption in the food chain for processed beef products, with horse meat substituted in Europe, donkey meat in Kenya and donkey, water buffalo and goat meat in South Africa.

These scandals are still unfolding and the full implications for transparency and traceability in the meat supply chain are not yet clear.

The regulatory authorities in Europe are attempting to untangle a complex web of sub-contracting suppliers that so far involves abattoirs, agents, meat processors and wholesalers in nine countries.

However, there have been recent suggestions that the work of those charged with investigating what has been going on in Europe are being hindered - so perhaps we will never know the real truth.

Astounded by the lack of detection

These are of course infringements of labeling regulations and no-one is yet suggesting that food safety has been compromised.

But consumers, especially in Europe, have been astounded at the lack of detection or enforcement of the most basic food regulation (food should be of ‘the nature, substance and quality’ demanded by consumers).

As a result, sales of processed meats including mince, burgers, meatballs and lasagne tumbled and are only making a slow recovery in some sectors after retailers scrambled to apologise to their customers and promised to clean up their supply chains.

The outcome of this, in the EU at least, may be requirements for intensified screening and food testing, the cost of which is likely to fall on producers and processors.

Source meat locally

In addition, many retailers are saying they will source meat locally in future, so the combination of this and the cost of screening may become an additional non-tariff barrier to small producers outside the EU.

Surely, rather than yet more regulations, it is not too much to ask the meat industry associations to impose some self-regulation: they have the insider knowledge of the practices adopted by their members and can enforce compliance through peer pressure to target the few outlaws who tarnish the image of both the industry and the reputation of the countries concerned.

It is not just the meat industry that has problems: for decades, the fishing industry has been beset with serious issues of over-exploitation and depletion of fish stocks; by-catches that are thrown overboard; falling incomes and reduced livelihoods of artisan fishers; and more generally a failure to deliver sustainable fisheries throughout the world.

Not to mention the ongoing scandal (and tragedy) of millions of sharks having their fins cut off for shark-fin soup, thrown back alive to suffer a lingering death by starvation, or by drowning because they need to swim to oxygenate their gills. Large-scale deep-water fishing boats, which are responsible for more than 40% of discarded fish, have done enormous damage to the livelihoods of artisan fishers in developing countries. I welcome the recent FAO initiative to develop international guidelines for securing sustainable small-scale fisheries​.'

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Dr Peter Fellows has worked as a food technologist for 40 years in 20 developing countries, specialising in agro-industrial development programmes. He is the author of 34 books and more than 40 technical papers on small-scale food processing, the last being The Complete Manual of Small-scale Food Processing​. He is the editor of Practical Action’s journal ‘Food Chain’ and was previously a UNESCO chairman in Post-harvest Technology at Makerere University, Uganda as well as head of the Agro-processing Department at the Intermediate Technology Development Group (now Practical Action) and Senior Lecturer in Food Technology at Oxford Brookes University.

Dr Fellows is giving away a copy of his book ‘The Complete Manual of Small-Scale Food Processing’ worth $59.95 to FoodProductionDaily readers. To be in with a chance of winning ‘Like’ our Facebook page​ and we will announce the winner on Friday, October 18.

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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