How European Associations Are Handling a Food Crisis
In recent weeks, reports that beef products have been contaminated with horsemeat have dominated news reports in Europe. Associations are responding to the crisis, which has shaken the food industry.
Something truly alarming happens in your industry. How do you respond?
In the United Kingdom and throughout Europe, industry groups are working to inform consumers, defend industry members, and improve regulations after horsemeat made it into the food supply of many of the countries’ grocery stores. More details:
What happened? In recent weeks, reports of horsemeat getting into the British food supply have drawn heavy scrutiny, especially after it was revealed that a popular brand of frozen lasagna, Findus, contained the wrong kind of meat—despite being clearly labeled as beef. Other products, including hamburgers at the Tesco grocery store chain, were also improperly labeled as 100 percent beef, despite being at least partially constituted of horsemeat. The scandal, first spotted in Britain, has since spread throughout Europe.
The business effect: Many business groups in the region, including the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), are working with the British Food Standards Agency to figure out exactly what happened. “It’s too early to say what the impact will be on our industry. The BMPA is cooperating with the [Food Standards Agency] to establish the facts, and to deal effectively with the issues,” the association told the BBC. Other groups in the U.K., such as the National Federation of Meat and Food Traders, are using the opportunity to emphasize why their locally produced products are different. “Our members are telling us that they’re all getting more business since the Tesco burger issue, because most butchers know exactly where their meat has come from,” the group’s Richard Stevenson told the news service. “You could argue that this issue has arisen as a direct result of the cheap food policy adopted by supermarkets.”
The investigation: A search for the source of the horsemeat contamination is underway. A winding investigation is looking at a French supplier, Comigel; Romanian meat producers; and Dutch and Cypriot traders. Sorin Minea, who leads the Romanian food association Romalimenta, was quick to place responsibility elsewhere. “There is an international ring that does this… the documents [relating to the meat] are changed abroad,” he told the Associated Press. Meanwhile, the Swedish maker of Findus products, the brand that has taken much of the criticism, plans to sue its supplier Comigel, alleging fraud and breach of contract, as the meat was produced outside of the countries where it was contracted.
What consumers should know: Understandably, many British consumers are alarmed. The Guardian newspaper has published a consumer guide, while the British Veterinary Association is working to inform consumers that some horses are treated with a painkiller that “is never supposed to get into the human food chain.” The country’s National Beef Association, meanwhile, is asking for stronger labeling to improve the integrity of the products.