Throughout the course of history numerous armies have found their downfall to be stretched supply lines. Too long and complex to support the constant forward progression of the end user, they collapsed with often calamitous effects.
Findus, Tesco, Waitrose, Swiss Coop, Germany’s Tengelmann and more have fallen foul of the horsemeat scandal that has gripped the continent. The only difference between the supermarkets and armies of yore is that we’ve moved on from using the horses for transport….
Eating horses isn’t the big news here - I'm told horse is quite tasty - it’s the element of surprise to know that we’ve been eating one of Red Rum’s distant cousins. But why are we all so shocked? Is it surprising that supermarkets have stretched their supply lines so far that they can no longer vouch for its traceability or contents? No, not really.
Let me take you on a short but truly astounding journey. Findus ‘beef’ lasagnes are made in Luxembourg by the French company Comigel. They were supplied the meat by Spanghero whose parent company Poujol bought the frozen meat from a Cypriot trader. The Cypriot trader in turn acquired the meat off a Dutch trader from Draap Trading ltd that sources from Romanian abattoirs.
It’s worth pointing out that Draap spelt backwards is the Dutch word for horse. However, as the supply chains are so long and the supermarkets don’t really know who they're buying from no one noticed the elephant in the room.
Its little wonder that throughout a one and half thousand mile long supply chain involving five countries there’s the capacity for something to go awry. But you can’t blame the supermarkets as they weren’t aware, you can’t blame the government as they wouldn’t have known, you can’t blame Findus as they didn’t have a clue. Because the system is flawed.
"Another scandal will arise because at the moment there’s nothing to stop it."
Food products from European countries aren’t routinely inspected on entry at British ports, the government hasn’t tested for horsemeat in products since 2003 and the only traceable mark on a carcass is those placed on at the abattoir using a dye derived from grape skins.
At every turn throughout these supply chains there’s the potential for clandestine meat operations to take place and evidently thrive.
The system needs changing, less reliance on spot checks and tip offs, fewer middle men trying to make another fast buck, less fingers in our pies.
The supermarkets would do well to take note of the independent butchers and small shops that know where their meat actually comes from, can tell you the ear tag number, have visited the farms. It’s the only way to make the system foolproof and it isn’t a hard thing to do.
What happens if the supermarkets don’t change and the government doesn’t sharpen up? Then another scandal will arise because at the moment there’s nothing to stop it. Maybe next time it won’t be horsemeat but something different, donkeys in donner kebabs, primates in our pie and peas or something even worse. The horsemeat scandal could be the tip of the iceberg.
That of course sounds somewhat far fetched, but so would the news of beef burgers containing horse. Of course it would, that’s if it wasn’t true.
- Gareth Barlow is a first generation farmer who manages pedigree livestock in Yorkshire. He’s on Twitter as @GarethBarlow
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