The horse meat crisis continues to escalate since last month when Irish food inspectors announced they had found horsemeat in some burgers stocked by UK supermarket chains including Tesco. As it turned out, it was not only the UK and Ireland which had the problem. Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands are the latest countries to confirm the discovery of horse meat in frozen meals, and millions of processed meat products have been withdrawn from supermarket shelves across the EU.
There has been an overwhelming reaction to the lack of integrity in the labelling of meat produce which will impact the brands involved for some years to come. The use of horse meat – which is not meant for the food industry – can potentially harm human health, as horses are sometimes treated with the painkiller phenylbutazone’ bute’ whose use is illegal in the food chain.
This horse meat scandal has raised serious questions about the complexity and safety of modern food supply chains. In my last blog (http://www.whebam.com/our-blog/entry/stay-healthy-during-the-festive-season-the-critical-role-of-life-sciences), I raised the issue of the “unintentional” contamination in our food supply chain caused by bacteria and viruses like Salmonella. This time, the problem lies with “intentional” food contamination caused by human intervention such as deliberate adulteration and fraud, which could be avoided and prevented if testing were carried out.
Global sourcing poses a number of challenges with regard to safety and authenticity as it makes the task of assuring safety at each stage of the supply chain increasingly difficult. A study found that 10 European leading brands used 522 production locations across 24 countries, and a single product can contain safety-critical components provided by between 10 and 100 suppliers.
This increased complexity in global production requires added layers of testing, verification and inspection. As we witnessed with the toy industry, product safety needs to be embedded in the entire production process, not limited to testing of the finished good.
The current crisis surrounding horse meat is likely to catalyse increased levels of testing through food chains. As public opinion becomes more sensitive to quality, health and safety issues, this will lead to strengthening and developing regulatory standards. As a result, corporates will be forced to adapt to new standards of best practice on safety and security. Authorities are likely to impose more rigorous testing requirements and require additional testing and analysis by manufacturers and retailers and in turn by their suppliers.
The testing industry, a key part of our ‘safety’ theme, plays a key role in ensuring that products meet quality and safety standards. Companies like Intertek, SGS, and Bureav Veritas provide independent third party services to carry out testing, verification and inspection. Eurofins, the global leader in food testing, carried out the recent horse meat DNA testing at one of their labs and Intertek also provides analytical services to detect meat species including traces of horsemeat. As mentioned in my previous blog, some of the life science companies like Thermo Fisher and Agilent also provide food testing services such as microbiological testing, traceability, and laboratory testing.
The current crisis is not the first and is unlikely to be the last, but it will contribute to ensuring that these companies continue to benefit from more stringent regulations and demands for more testing to ensure safety in the complex supply chains. We currently invest in Intertek, Thermo Fisher, and Agilent.