The scandal surrounding horsemeat in Europe shows the food industry in bad light. The stunning revelations that customers were served horsemeat in the name of beef have caused both shock and scare in Europe. Those who are behind this act have committed a serious breach of trust and the damage it has done will take months to be repaired, or may not be repaired at all, prompting customers to always doubt what they are eating.
A trickle of discoveries of horse meat in hamburgers, starting in Ireland last month, has snowballed into a steady stream of revelations. On Friday came the stunning news that lasagna labelled as beef from a leading international distributor of frozen food, Findus, was in some cases hundred percent horsemeat. The growing scandal has affected producers and millions of customers in five countries: Ireland, Britain, Poland, France and Sweden.
A British newspaper reported that organised criminal gangs operating on an international scale are suspected of playing a major role in the scandal. Experts within the horse slaughter industry were quoted as saying that both Polish and Italian mafia gangs are running international, multimillion dollar scams to substitute horsemeat for beef during the food production process.
Britain has been affected the most because horsemeat consumption is a taboo in the country,
whose food minister yesterday hosted a crisis meeting of retailers and officials amid growing public concern.
The scandal raises serious questions of fraud in the food industry, of food safety, oversight by various governmental agencies, and the nexus between officials and the industry, all of which beg urgent attention and need immediate remedial action.
The scandal will have huge consequences for the food industry. As British farmers have said, the scandal could affect consumer confidence in beef.
The Gulf region has so far remained free from horsemeat contamination and international fast food outlets operating here have assured that there is no reason to worry. They were forced to issue clarifications after customers began to get suspicious and the issue became a subject of hot discussion in the social media networks.
But the scandal can serve as an eye opener. It highlights the need for extra vigilance on food imports and more tests to prevent fraud. It also shows that even established global brands are not above suspicion because of the risks involved in outsourcing.
Food is not like computers and steel. For the same reason, producers and governments need to place health above profit. Governments in Europe must take punitive measures against companies involved in the current scandal and must enact new laws, if necessary, to prevent a repetition of such incidents. •