globalEDGE Blog: European Horsemeat Scandal: Isolated Issue or Global Supply Chain Problem?

European Horsemeat Scandal: Isolated Issue or Global Supply Chain Problem?

File under: Europe, Corruption, Supply Chain,

There is currently an ongoing investigation into a food scandal in Europe involving horsemeat found in beef products. Because of the bond that horses have shared with humans as companions throughout history, eating horsemeat is considered taboo in many cultures. The issue came to light when meat that was listed as beef in supermarkets in Ireland and the U.K. was found to contain horsemeat. This scandal poses a threat to international supply chains and brings up a very important topic: how safe is the global food supply chain?

Since the initial discovery, traces of horsemeat have been found in supermarkets throughout Europe. The horsemeat in the British products originated from a Romanian slaughterhouse. However, it has been determined that the meat left the slaughterhouse correctly labeled as horse meat, so it must have been relabeled as beef somewhere further down the supply chain. Organized crime has been blamed for this, but the investigation results are still pending. The meat then went from Romania to a trader in the Netherlands who sold the frozen meat to Spanghero, a French meat processing company. The packaged meat was eventually sold to French food supplier Comigel who sold it to supermarkets in Great Britain, Ireland and Sweden. The supply chain in this instance consisted of a horse farm, slaughterhouse, trader, meat processor, food supplier and eventually the supermarket that sold the meat to consumers.

As you can see, the global supply chain has expanded tremendously throughout the years; this poses a new set of problems. It has become increasingly difficult for large companies to control their supply chain and be knowledgeable about operations within the chain. The latest events show how vulnerable the food supply chain is when it becomes too complex for a company to manage. There really only needs to be four parts of a meat supply chain: farmer, slaughterhouse, meat processing plant and retailer. The more complex the supply chain, the more likely products will have issues with authenticity. With the rise in globalization and international trade in the past decade, unnecessarily intricate supply chains are becoming a real issue that must be addressed.

I believe that the scale of food fraud in Europe is greatly underestimated and that the recent events involving horsemeat are only the tip of the iceberg. Hopefully new regulations will assist in simplifying the food supply chain and get to the root of the problem. What do you think? When does a supply chain become too large and what steps must be taken to correct the problem?

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