Horse meat one year anniversary: Hold the candles

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Horse meat: Have we learned our lesson?
Horse meat: Have we learned our lesson?

Related tags Horse meat Meat

We may be one year on but I am not really sure if the horse meat anniversary is something we should be donning our party hats to mark or not.

There is no doubt it has kick started quite a debate on traceability, supplier management and food fraud but talking and actions are two very different things.

The scandal didn’t leave anyone unscathed – even the likes of Nestlé​ (who shut a frozen meals plant after sales plunged), Birds Eye​ and Findus​ were embroiled.

It has been brought to the forefront again this week, with Dutch food safety agencies recalling 11,000kg of meat labelled as beef when it was actually horse, the resulting food products have more than likely been eaten already.

Could it happen again?

Research published to mark the one year anniversary said “few lessons have been learnt​”, pointing to supply chain issues and managing supplier information.

After the initial situation became clear with the what, who, when and where (and the jokes had died down), thoughts turned to the how and why? I would question if we will ever know a definitive answer to all the questions.

We can of course put up some guesses: why – economic reasons/supply and demand, how is a bit more tricky, whether it is in terms of how did this happen and whose fault is it or how long was this going on? Answers on a postcard please.

The issue wasn’t just that it was horse meat instead of beef, some of us here in the office had tried horse meat and others agreed that they would probably try it, the anger stemmed from the fact that we didn’t know​ it was horse in the meat.  

Then there was the issue of the painkiller bute (phenylbutazone) entering the food chain. It didn’t seem to matter that to get a single therapeutic dose of bute people would need to eat 500-600 250g horse burgers. If you eat that many burgers it is time to look at your diet.

A reminder

Just in case you have forgot, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) said in mid-January 2013 that they had found horse meat in frozen beefburgers made by companies in Ireland and the UK.

47 positive results out of 32,404 tested for horse meat/DNA were submitted by industry to the FSA since 15 February.

The incident involved a food processor in France, its subsidiary in Luxembourg, a subcontractor in Cyprus, a meat trader in the Netherlands, abattoirs in Romania, and food businesses in the UK and across Europe selling the end products.

In the UK horsemeat was found in beef lasagne, spaghetti bolognese and beef burgers from supermarkets including Tesco, Asda, Aldi, Iceland and Morrisons.    

Industry reacted to the scandal with Thermo Fisher Scientific developing a bute test​, JDA saying cloud technology could be used​ to secure traceability and AB Sciex unveiling a meat speciation method​ which detects animal protein markers being some examples.

They have been more reviews than you can shake a stick at and while it may be a little early to see how they are going, they are at least some movements – including from Professor Chris Elliott who led the government-commissioned study, who suggested a food crime unit to tackle fraud.

A European Commission action plan looks at a five pronged-approach: horse passports; food fraud; phenylbutazone; official controls and penalties origin labelling.  

Yes the food chain is complicated with globalisation coming more into play and yes no-one was killed from this incident but should it have taken a scandal on this scale to get us where we need to be for food traceability and to stop food fraud?

Related topics Food Safety & Quality

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