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Time to tackle regulation of supply chain

By James Williamson, 13 February 2013 3.18pm.

You would have to have been living under a hedge to have missed this week’s big news, so there are neigh surprises about what’s been galloping through the minds of Courier Business over the last few days.

But the revelation that horse, and perhaps even donkey meat has found its way into processed beef products stocked by grocers and supermarkets the length of the UK is no laughing matter.

So let’s get some things straight.

This is not a crisis for the native farming industry. No one is calling into question the quality, traceability or regulation of Scottish and British meats. And no one should, because the products proudly produced by our farmers are amongst the highest-quality and most tightly-controlled in the world.

Similarly, there is no problem with eating horse per se. Two fancy Edinburgh restaurants have it on their menus, I’m told. Lots of folk on the continent love it too, and if that’s what they want on their dinner plates then good luck to them.

No — the problem here is that consumers were getting horse when they thought they were getting cow.

It’s a food standards issue which our politicians have to crack, for the good of consumer confidence and the domestic industry.

Long and disparate supply chains which weave their way across Europe are no doubt tough to regulate but it will have to be done, and the early indications are that the political will to make sure it happens is there.

However, the underlying and perhaps unpalatable economic fact is that major brands and big retail chains know there is a market for a £1.39 lasagne.

Customers would, until recently, happily pay the less-than-princely sum for the convenience offered by some of those value products found to contain horsemeat.

Findus, one of the implicated food groups, reportedly turned over 
£1.13 billion in 2011, so it is no slouch in the money-making stakes.

What is difficult for many of us to imagine is how the trading of ingredients of ready meals, burgers and the like across the Continent could possibly result in such a cheap product.

The abattoir, the processor, the food brand and the retailer will all be making their cut, and that is without factoring in the costs of transport or regulation. It is big, pan-continental business and the margins are clearly there.

Ultimately, the drive for profit and market share by huge concerns appears to be behind a supply chain which is out-of-control.

So it is great to hear that local butchers are seeing a trading uplift of up to 25% in the wake of this scandal.

Here’s hoping that the boon for local retailers and supply chains will last, and the consumer’s appetite for cooking tasty meals from cheaper cuts of butcher-bought meat can begin to override the convenience of the more questionable processed ready meals.