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The horsemeat scandal is like a kick in the gut for the food processing business that relies on a large number of intermediaries for churning out a gazillion products. Amid numerous reports pouring out of the scandal precipitated by the creeping find of horsemeat DNA in beef Lasagne being supplied by the French firm Comigel, it has become clear that the consumption of readymade food is fraught with danger. The British have been specially alarmed by the thought of biting into beef lasagne which contained horsemeat, the consumption of which is a taboo in the island nation. The British police yesterday arrested three people suspected of passing off horsemeat as beef.
As the scandal, based mainly in Europe, unfolded last week, many thought it was a problem of adulteration. Later, it was thought of to be a labelling scandal. It has been revealed after a French probe into the scandal that Spanghero, a meat-processing company in southwestern France, was to be blamed for supplying the horsemeat. The meat was used to make 4.5 million products sold to 28 companies in 13 European countries.
The latest to join the countries tangled in the scandal is Germany. Yesterday, two supermarket chains in the country found traces of horsemeat in frozen lasagne which was withdrawn.
In the rumpus over the types of meat involved, what is being lost sight of is the process — involving a maze of suppliers criss-crossing the length and breadth of Europe. Economic globalisation has largely relied on outsourcing, especially for mass production. Almost all large producers based in the West have outsourced their products to firms based thousands of kilometres away. More often than not, the products are fashioned by hands which don’t have the remotest connection to the item being manufactured. Outsourcing has been a necessary evil of globalisation. The horsemeat scandal shows that six to seven countries are involved in the process of making a frozen food product. It is not very difficult to understand that when a food product is being made involving such a vast geographical area, the risks of adulteration, fraud, mislabelling, and even contamination increase. It has to be kept in mind that Europe is spread over a huge geographical area with different cultural, social and ethnic backgrounds. The disadvantages of outsourcing consumer products to distant locales are slowly coming out in the open. These include quality control, labour issues and ethical concerns. The Boeing 787 battery problem originated in Japan and there have been allusions to quality of the raw material used by the supplier. Bangladesh last year saw widespread labour protests by workers who demanded fair wages for producing garments for global brands. These are only two of several examples. Globalisation has its discontents and businesses have to tread softly to avoid falling into a trap.