Are rising food prices the underlying issue in the horsemeat saga? TAN PARSONS reports
Data from Nielsen shows that retail sales of frozen burgers are down 40% year on year in the wake of the horsemeat scandal. But are rising food prices to blame?
“The problem has been there for a long time and the rising cost of meat is an ongoing issue across the board,” says Leri Allen, group catering manager at Cornwall Care. “If people don’t want to eat horsemeat, they should buy from a reputable supplier and not eat the cheapest mince on the market.”
Other catering groups have become involved, with Lancashire County Council withdrawing cottage pies from 47 school kitchens after they were found to contain ‘minute’ amounts of horsemeat.
All caterers, including those that make meals from scratch, have a responsibility to scrutinise their supply chains, says Allen. “We do use minced beef and I have carried out rigorous checks with our suppliers to examine the sources of our products.”
- FOLLOW THE NEWS: Keep up to date with the horse meat investigation by visiting the Food Standards Agency website: www.food.gov.uk
- TALK TO CUSTOMERS: Communicate clearly with your customers (by email, by phone, through your field sales-force or on your website) to reassure them of the actions you are taking and the robustness of your procedures.
- TALK TO YOUR SUPPLIERS: Speak to your meat product suppliers and ensure you are satisfied with the actions they are taking to check the traceability of their products. Insist your suppliers have the same high standards you set for your own company.
- TALK TO YOUR STAFF: Make sure your staff are well briefed and can explain the steps you are taking to customers.
The company has 18 homes across Cornwall, which provide care for 750 elderly people with mental health and nursing requirements. The homes do not use ready meals and all food is prepared from scratch by its chefs. But Ms Allen has been vigilant about speaking to the homes’ suppliers.
“We use a local meat supplier that I have discussed horsemeat with and all the products we use have full traceability.”
The paperwork detailing the provenance of the products has been passed to all the chefs in each care home. Should any of their clients or their clients’ families have any concerns about the origin of the food provided by Cornwall Care, the group is in a position to discuss it with them openly.
She added: “It is extremely important – we have to have full trust in our suppliers that they are carrying out checks on their produce.”
The whole horsemeat saga began in January with Tesco’s burgers, which were found to be almost 30% horsemeat. Since then, more suppliers and meat plants across continental Europe and the UK have been implicated in the story.
Although the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is overseeing tests on beef and processed meat products, consumer confidence has taken a blow and the question for wholesalers now is how to move forward.
Wholesalers are taking action
Like suppliers, wholesalers are taking action. Booker immediately withdrew a Findus Lasagne product that tested positive for horsemeat and is testing its processed meat products. Similarly, Nisa withdrew all stock of affected lines on the day the FSA instructed it to and is testing all its own-label beef products.
But other major players have been caught out, including foodservice group Brakes, which found its own-brand lasagne tested positive for horse DNA. It apologised and outlined the steps it was taking, including an urgent investigation and an end to dealings with its supplier.
A spokesman said the group was very disappointed that it had been badly let down by a supplier and that it was determined to work with the industry to stamp out this kind of fraud.
Martin Williams, managing director of Landmark Wholesale, said: “Trust is one of the most crucial values in our business. You should only buy products from a trustworthy brand owner and we apply that rule to everything we do.
“We are following the FSA guidelines 100% and that’s what you need to do. It’s a matter of getting our products checked and vetted. You can’t afford not to do that and run the risk of selling meat that has been contaminated – knowingly or unknowingly.”
Buying group guidance
Bill Laird, managing director of Today’s Group, said his company is working closely with the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, the FSA and the British Frozen Food Federation to make sure all relevant guidance is circulated to Today’s members.
Since the scandal first made headlines, Today’s Group has ‘over-monitored’ its suppliers, he said, and it will continue to do so until the errant food sources have been eradicated from the supply chain.
“As a buying group, we have very limited actual involvement with the primal meat supply chain. But where we do interact, our in-house quality assurance specialist has been liaising with our own-label meat manufacturers to ensure they have reviewed their stocks and are able to provide us, our members and their retailers with the necessary documented assurances regarding sourcing, quality and meat traceability.
“We believe the UK has an enviable international reputation for the supply of safe, well sourced and clearly labelled foodstuffs, whether they be primal, poultry, dairy, green grocery or provisions.”
Foodservice company 3663 said all wholesalers should be working with their customers, their supply chain, the FSA, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure that confidence in and integrity within the UK food industry can be restored.
A 3663 spokeswoman added: “The issue has been identified. It’s what the industry does about it collectively to ensure it doesn’t happen again that is key.”
One industry insider said there are concerns that the UK’s DNA laboratories are oversubscribed by suppliers wanting to check their products are above-board: “There’s a problem because they are inundated. For someone like Tesco to be caught out as much as they have been suggests that something is going drastically wrong with the supply chain.
“So much value is being taken out of the supply chain and suppliers are being squeezed that much. What some suppliers are doing is shocking, but you have to ask why it is happening.”