An emerging scandal about horsemeat found in processed foods has raised questions over European regulators’ ability to monitor the food industry. With the recession creating a glut of horsemeat in Ireland, two UK plants being raided and fingers being pointed at the Romanian abattoir, the trail of responsibility is complex and tangled.
Whether the recent horsemeat incidents were a result of long supply chains or criminal activity, this isn’t the first time food control and regulation has been a hot topic.
In the FT
- Joshua Chaffin and Hugh Carnegy examined how the food scare travelled across borders to spread through Europe.
- A new report of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, raised fears over the spread of mad cow disease and sent cattle prices down sharply in 2012.
- In 2011, an outbreak of E.coli in Germany infected 1,500 people and killed 18. German authorities at first blamed Spanish cucumbers but the real source was Egyptian seeds.
- The same year, dioxin was found in animal feed in Germany, which made its way to the UK via contaminated eggs. After this, feed producers were forced to register with the authorities and report regularly on ingredient tests.
- If you only read one report on a food scandal, make it this from the New York Times, which spoke to a woman paralysed after eating a burger contaminated with E.coli. Several outbreaks of E.coli in the US led to increased pressure for more stringent tests and better controls on production lines. This article revealed that meat suppliers were refusing to sell to companies that did their own testing for E.coli. The NYT also broke down the ingredients of hamburgers and the method of combating E.coli in this graphic.
- It seems that with rising food prices and high mark-ups, food fraud has become easier and more profitable; even criminal gangs are getting in on the act.
- It isn’t just meat that can be mistaken – when a public database was set up to compile reports on global food fraud, olive oil, milk and honey were revealed as the foods most vulnerable to adulteration. The majority of the incidents involved replacement with a cheaper substitute.
- Despite numerous reports of food scandals in China, it seems that these examples “represent only a fraction of unsafe food production practices”. According to Caixin, “regulatory standards have not been able to keep up with the ingenuity of food manufacturers”. Chinese citizens are so concerned about their food that there is a smartphone app to track food scandals and the Hong Kong government has had to limit the amount of milk powder than mainland Chinese can carry over the border.
- In Britain, mad cow disease led to a national crisis with millions of animals destroyed and the deaths of more than 200 people. James Meikle looked back over its effects on British regulation: “The crisis changed for ever official estimates of risk. Years of lax controls, poor oversight of slaughterhouse practices and political complacency, then secrecy, changed attitudes among civil servants and politicians. They are now more ready to consider worst-case scenarios – critics would say too ready.”
- John Harris considers how much people know about multinational supply chains and asks how much do they want to know? In the UK, “since 2009, budgets for public-sector trading standards and environmental health have been cut by 32% in real terms”.